I’ve always thought Camus’s ‘there is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn’ a goodie, as far as one’s serenity levels go. You imagine someone armed with a healthy degree of scepticism already who has the wherewithal to crank it up some gears when spurned by a boy or girl or club or employer or institution…Yeah, solid. Not true in all cases, obviously – you can’t scorn hunger, but truer, I think, than old Freddy Nietzche’s much quoted, ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ In my observation, what doesn’t kill you – that ‘almost-killed/ killing-you-stuff he’s talking about – is as likely to make you weaker, certainly enough for his view to be no more than half-true. I had a lot of time for Freddy when I read him – a really dynamic, fluent style, translated into English, and hey, you can’t say that of Dostoyevsky, but he was a bit of a show-off. Liked his one-liners.
Another one I’m fond of (and I forget who wrote it now) is: ‘In life one must choose between boredom and suffering.’ This seems to me to accurately get to the starkness of the choice, that Rubicon river moment, that many at some point face: on the one side, steady job, some status, security and the acceptance of a certain kind of responsibility. On the other, dreams and difficulty and another (voluntary) responsibility. Ah, but only one way lies glory…
My own one-line guide to the fair, serene life might be: ‘Don’t hurt anybody. Pay unto Caesar (as quick as you can) then follow your interests.’
Or, similar, these reflections from the musician David Mancuso on his early days (courtesy of the literary blog, ‘Savannahs of the Mind’)
“I just want to live and be happy. I was happy to be able to pay my rent, to have my independence. This was like the best thing in the world for me. I had no real ambitions at this point… Just make friends, enjoy myself, and be responsible… Basically, I didn’t get into any trouble. My independence was very important to me.”