Tag Archives: Pensees

Distraction, the thief of joy

24 Feb


Confession: my current antidote for school, internship, and job search stress is Keeping up with the Kardashians. Yes, it’s bad reality TV. No, it’s not healthy. It does, however, provide a lens into our current cultural climate. In the season 10 two-episode special where Bruce Jenner reveals to family, friends, and nation-wide viewers his desire to get a sex change, his son-in-law (er, boyfriend-in-law before he divorced Kris Jenner) Scott Disick’s take is, “You can do whatever you want. I mean, as long as you become happy with yourself, that’s all that really matters. And like I said, I mean you only really get one chance at this life, so whatever you gotta do to be happy, you gotta do it.”

Everyone does want to be happy.  In Pope John Paul II’s words at World Youth Day 2002,”People are made for happiness. Rightly, then, you thirst for happiness.” But do we always, truly know what will make us happy? Are we that in tune with ourselves, enough so to admit that many of the things we think will make us happy just aren’t doing it?

While Bruce’s gender transition remains a theme in subsequent episodes, it’s not a priority. Kim and Khloe jet off to Armenia; the Wests baptize North in Jerusalem; Kendall’s modeling engagements hum along; Kylie decorates her new home; and all of the family’s females convene for Cosmopolitan‘s November 2015 cover photo shoot. While I do respect the Kardashian hustle, it’s also a good reminder of my own use of ‘busy’ to block out pain, sadness, and uncomfortable emotions.

img_0180It is all too easy to avoid examining our sorry state, and to instead reach for that next delicious distraction. Some intense cardio, scrolling Instagram, completing a major deadline, a crossword puzzle, even coffee seems to be an offering of happiness. Yet nothing slakes our thirst. Not one pleasure on this Earth will completely satiate us. In Pensées, his unfinished collection of notes and essays, Blaise Pascal makes keen insight into our unhappy condition as distraction chasers. “We are not looking for [a] peaceful existence which allows us to think about our unfortunate condition, nor the dangers of war or the burden of office, but the bustle which distracts and amuses us – the reason why we prefer the hunt to the kill.” Leo Tolstoy, too, provides a piercing image of just how well we excel at the game of distraction, in A Confession and Other Religious Writings. He recounts an old Eastern fable, in which a man is stuck in a well between a dragon at the bottom of it and a wild animal outside of it. Knowing he will soon be consumed by one or the other of these beasts, as he is holding onto a branch on the verge of snapping, he nevertheless spots some drops of honey on the branch’s leaves and begins to lick them off.

There is a tension here between our desire, nay need, for happiness and the ugly reality of our wretchedness and mortality. Thankfully, Pope John Paul II went on during his World Youth Day address to say: “Christ has the answer to this desire of yours. But he asks you to trust him. True joy is a victory, something which cannot be obtained without a long and difficult struggle. Christ holds the secret to this victory.” It might not be the answer you were looking for, and it sure isn’t instant gratification. But it’s the only way, and I do take comfort in knowing that suffering can actually be a means to happiness.

Eating, while one of life’s greatest pleasures, presents its own tension between taste and calories. Fear not, this cucumber feta salad is healthfully delicious, and perfect as a low-cal lunch addition or mid-afternoon snack





3 large cucumbers, peeled and diced

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1/4 of a large red onion, finely chopped

5 kalamata olives, chopped

1/4 cup feta cheese

1 Tbs. lemon juice

1 tsp. salt

DIRECTIONS: Combine all of the ingredients. Eat!

CALORIES (per serving): 70