Author: Herman Hesse
Published: 1951 (New Direction)
Q: How do you find happiness?
A: Live simply.
That’s it. Maybe you could listen to the river – that really helps. So does being a shallow materialistic rich guy for a couple decades so you can remember what that’s like and appreciate how much better the simple stuff makes you feel.
That worked for Siddhartha, son of an Eastern holy man who rejected all teachings because he found words meant nothing so therefore all teachings meant nothing and what he felt meant everything. He goes off to join a religious order, then falls into materialism when he goes off by himself, and finally finds peace helping an old man paddle a raft across a river because that puts him in touch with the earth. That’s where he finds true happiness.
It’s a fable, told with very pointed dialogue and formal language structure and time that melts away in a sentence. I knew this, and I put off reading this because of it, and that was a dumb reason. A less dumb reason was I didn’t want to find out that you have to be still and calm and give up yourself to find yourself. I don’t want to start agreeing with that and am being completely 100% serious when I say that my nervous tics and preoccupations make me feel human. I want my meaning of life to be as loud as possible.
But that turned out to be another dumb worry too. Siddhartha’s ultimate peace is based on, and I’m paraphrasing here, noticing how awesome everything is and being super-psyched about it and using it to enjoy life without unnecessary superficial crap that secretly or not-so drags us down.
And he’s totally human, guys. Like, when he meets his young son and takes him in after his mother dies, the son acts like a total brat and eventually runs off and Siddhartha goes after him but then the raft dude says, “That’s how you started to find your way, right? Leaving your dad’s?” It hurts like a bastard, but Siddhartha recognizes the truth of that and lets him go.
None of it’s easy but it’s all worth it in the end. I really like that message.
Note on copy of book: I’ve no idea where this one came from. It looks exactly like the type my high school AP English teacher had in a set on her bookcase as one of the extra books we could choose from to do some sort of project about, and a fellow APer said Siddhartha was really good, so it’s possible… but my boyfriend, double English and Philosophy graduate that he is (also Library Science, y’all! He had me at “So, I’m a librarian.”), also said that. Possibly I bought it cheap and used after talking about it with him. I DON’T KNOW, and that sort of bothers me. But not enough to keep it off my bookshelf.