Between the Lines: Lessons learned in 20 years of living

On the verge of turning 60, I find that I’ve learned a few things. Here are some of them:
In the face of all the misery in this world, I don’t know of a better response than to try to be happy. And while I admire people who sacrifice their own happiness to make the world a better place, I think a wiser choice is to work both on giving something back and on developing one’s own inner happiness. The responsibility goes outward and inward.
Fly fishing is a lousy way to catch fish. But it’s fairer to the fish, and a great excuse to spend time standing in pretty rivers.
Contrary to what I thought when I was 20, I’ve learned that “business” is not a dirty word.
The New York Times is the best newspaper on the planet.
We remember things our parents said to us even half a century later — a reflection of how deeply ingrained our families of origin remain within us. We spend our days living out what we learned from our parents, or trying to escape what we learned. Or some mixed-up combination of the two.
The Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres will never win a World Series.
In politics, ideology often triumphs self-interest and common sense.
There are too many people on the planet. It’s wonderful to have all the advances in technology and travel and the explosion in knowledge and consciousness. But we’re paying a terrible environmental price, and the place is getting awfully crowded.
One of the best pieces of advice my father gave me was to point out how rare and valuable true friendships are. If you have a chance to make a real friend, he said, you should always do so.
Football is a fun game to play when you’re a boy. But you pay the price for it in the decades to come.
If you’re past 25 and you love your partner, it’s worth it to do everything you can to stay together through even the hardest times. But sometimes you just have to let go.
When I was a freelance writer, I was retained to help a talented University of California psychology professor rework a manuscript for a book titled “The Control Factor.” I’ve always remembered his insight about what it takes to have a sense of personal control. He said it involved four factors: a feeling of competence, a clear identity, a sense of belonging, and the belief that there is some sort of meaningful order in everyday existence.
Having been childless for most of my adult life, I’m grateful now to have teenagers and young adults in my everyday life. However, I do not regret missing out on the diaper changing.
There will always be the trade-off between time and money. Choose to have more of one, and you will have less of the other.
Vermont is the best place to live in the entire United States.
Some of your friends will become more successful than you are. It’s a good idea to be happy about their success and take encouragement from it. Also, to take note of the good things you have in your life that they don’t.
There are lots of gay people out there, probably more than societies have appreciated for centuries.
I can always find solace out in nature.
For Westerners, the best route to happiness that I know of involves a regular meditation practice, plus psychotherapy with a good therapist willing to gently confront you with your stuff.
I will never understand the tattoo thing.
If we don’t do something soon about climate change, we are in serious, serious trouble.
Given the diminishing availability of pensions and the impending bankruptcy of Medicare and Social Security, saving money diligently when you are young has never been so important. I sure wish I’d known that 30 years ago.
I’ve carefully considered the question and have concluded that on balance, women are better than men.
Getting older — the realization that somewhere out there, death is waiting — forces a healthy prioritization.
Humans are religious beings. Even if what we worship is a particular ideology or lifestyle or thing, we do it in a religious way.
Good health is among the greatest treasures. Yet we are willing to sacrifice it for the chimeras of status and material things.
The Europeans sure have it over Americans in terms of lifestyle and social safety net. I appreciate that more as I contemplate having to work well into my 70s. And why, by the way, don’t we have an English phrase for “joie de vivre”?
If I get to read this column 10 years from now, I hope it looks like the youthful scrawlings of someone who didn’t know any better, and who has learned an awful lot in the past decade.
Poet and essayist Gary Snyder: “Ultimately it’s not success or failure in the human realm that matters. It’s that you’re at peace with what the work is and who the people are and what you’re doing.”
As the Indian sage Osho put it, life is not a puzzle to be solved but a mystery to be lived.
Gregory Dennis’s column, which is archived at www.gregdennis.wordpress.com, usually appears here every other Thursday. He’ll take a break for the rest of August and resume next month. Email him at [email protected].

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