The thought receptacle

Stephen's mental dustbin

Thu, 10 Apr 2014

The joy of discovery

[I seem to have written this in June 2010. I joined up a few half-formed sentences, but otherwise it didn't need much finishing off.]

The most joyful times in life are often times of discovery. Discovering people, music, art, places, food, drink and pastimes can all be among the most exciting and rewarding things life has to offer.

My life in Cambridge (I could just say “my adult life”) has introduced me to many of the discoveries that have brought me the most joy. My interests or enthusiasms for music, film, wine, cycling and other people's company have all essentially arisen or properly sprung during my time here. I've also discovered some truly wonderful people and the pleasures of spending time with them. Summer evenings with friends, a walk at dusk or a new and perfect sandwich were all essentially unknown before I came to live here.

However, recently I've been forced to confront the fact that I just haven't been doing that much discovering lately, and that my life has been correspondingly low on joy. I don't want to overstate it; I've always had one thing or another going on that has kept my faith somewhat alive. In the last couple of years these things have included the radio of Gideon Coe, the joys of Belgian beer, cycling adventure, and the odd special person I've been fortunate enough to get to know.

What is joy anyway? It has something to do with an involuntary urge to smile. A friend once claimed I was a joyful person, which surprised me because often I feel anything but. Still, I must admit I am prone to sudden bouts of joy. I can be eating breakfast or generally daydreaming when the thought of something catches me and cracks me up completely. My joy-o-meter registers how often this happens, and this post is lamenting that it seemed to happen a bit more when I was younger.

Part of the secret seems to be to keep up the energy of exploration: move, don't stand still. Keep on digging for the good stuff, keep on challenging yourself, and don't stay in the same place for too long. Unfortunately I'm also a bit of a sentimentalist: I look back fondly at joys past and feel unable to part from them, even though the discovery was long ago and the joy now only a memory. It's a difficult idea to swallow: that life springs from freshness, that standing still means staleness and decay, and that today's bright fountain of joy is tomorrow's sentimental baggage.

Childhood is a process of continual discovery, which is why I think most people look back on it so fondly. I'd be quick to add that its joyfulness is often balanced by a lot of pain and confusion, and shouldn't be romanticised, but I suppose every one is different. What seems not to vary is that as we progress through adulthood, it gets more and more difficult to keep up the discovery rate. Jobs and commitments tie us down in space and drain the energy that we might otherwise spend on our imagination. Imagination is one thing you can't afford to lack if you want to keep challenging yourself, because as you discover more of life, it takes creativity to see where the next piece of unknown joy might come from. A high-entropy diet seems essential; if you have tips on how to get your w-a-day, I'd love to hear them.

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Blog holes

I haven't blogged regularly for a few years now. Even when I did, though, I had the bad habit of never posting a reasonable proportion of the articles I wrote. I'm trying to improve on both of these sorry situations. So, I'll try to post at a reasonable rate, and much of what I post will be articles I wrote some time ago. It's a bit of an experiment—I hope it proves worthwhile.

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