Photo by Jay Castor on Unsplash

Hello my dear happiness nerds, welcome (back)!

Sorry for the relatively long absence, I’ve been very busy with real-life deadlines. As this state of affairs will likely outlast this January, I’d thought I’d give you a little gem of a quote in the meantime (I’m also working on a retrospective of the 2010s in terms of happiness, so stay tuned!). I encountered it in this beautiful conversation during my lunch break today.

”If you purify the pond, the water lilies die.”

– William Stafford

I’m curious to hear your interpretations in the comments. I’ll reserve mine for the discussions there, just this much in advance: As a passionate purist, I know that internalizing the truth behind this aphorism would bring my happiness to the next level. One challenging task towards more happiness is to make peace with the complexity of life over and over again.

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72 thoughts on “A Difficult Lesson about Life

  1. I think it’s an adage about how, it’s good to go for perfection and purity, but overdoing it can kill the beauty in things. Flaws are meant to be there–they aren’t flaws at all. They’re water lilies! (Silly me).

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I really like your interpretation and I don’t find it silly at all! =)
      I think that it wants to say that impurities are necessary to let the pond be a pond – and water lilies are a beautiful part of that! It’s a warning against overdoing purity and perfection, as you say!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. The water-lily itself IS the purification since it gets its nourishment from the impure pond. It can’t live if its nourishment is cleaned out. An opposite analogy is found in Christ, Who is deemed the Lily of the Valley and Christians believe He took on the world’s sins (or impurities). But, though He died, He was resurrected and we who believe, are resurrected with Him. So to conclude the second analogy, it could read: “Jesus purified the pond so that we could live” Works for me!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Exactly, some beautiful things get nurtured by impurities and couldn’t exist without them. The story about Jesus Christ is a nice analogy, even though elsewhere I have discussed my objections with the story. Thanks for reading and commenting! All the best to you, Thomas =)

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m happy to hear that you’re eager to learn =) I’m also learning much through writing and getting comments from my fellow happiness nerds. Actually, the quote could be applied to this: There is no pure/single way or principle towards happiness. One has to integrate a bunch of idea(l)s.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The phrase “towards happiness” makes it seem like it is a benchmark on a scale from sadness to joy. I would argue that they could coexist, and that when you are happy, you are happy (potentially mixed with other feelings) and not a 6/10 satisfied. I agree that there is not a single way to be happy, but you can be happy without using a bunch of ideals, using one well might be enough to start. Doing one will bring you happiness by itself — if the method is correct — and doing more will bring the individual closer to an “everlasting joy.” (Doctrine and Covenants 101 and in other religious texts)

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I agree, following one ideal is a good start. With time, one hopefully sees its limitations and includes another one into one’s path (maybe even its opposite). Like you, I wouldn’t equate happiness with joy. Joy is a big part of it, but sadness is compatible with true, lasting happiness. Another way, in which the path towards happiness isn’t pure =)

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  3. I have to constantly remind myself that I’m human full of mistakes. Taking myself too seriously leans me towards moodiness and being too hard on myself, IE “purifying the pond”, discredits what it means to actually BE human. It’s ok…😊🤘

    Liked by 4 people

    1. That’s a great comment, Amanda! I totally agree, being human is an inherently impure endeavor and that’s perfectly fine =) I should also use this quote from time to time to bring myself down from perfectionistic aspirations ^^

      Liked by 1 person

  4. As soon as I read it, it reminded me of the quote: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. But for some reason, I saw it in light of romantic relationships. People are always trying to perfect themselves, but they don’t realize sometimes that their imperfections make them perfect for other people.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s a great point, Loren! One big thing that I find invaluable in my girlfriend is that she loves me not DESPITE my imperfections, but in big part BECAUSE of my “imperfections” (she doesn’t see them as such, at least not all of the time). Wish you all the best, Thomas =)

      Liked by 2 people

  5. To me it seems to say that what we view as ‘impure’ or ‘incorrect’ is just our view. The lily here wants the pond to be that way for its nourishment and growth. Who are we to go disturb its ecosystem. If we try to go change others and ‘fix’ them, the relationship dies. Its such a big lesson. Nature has so many lessons we can learn. If only I can make myself pause and reflect on it for a few minutes everyday.. Thanks for the post.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Oh wow, this is another great aspect of the quote that I didn’t think about. Yeah, purity entails a subjectivity and value judgment that we shouldn’t take to be objectively true. We should love others not for the pure ideal that they could one day be, but for the impure human that each and everyone of us is. Thanks for your great input!

      Liked by 3 people

  6. Perhaps it means that if there is gunk under the surface, there is always evidence of it on the surface. We don’t have to purify to the point of perfection – that’s not healthy either – but a little clean-up is sometimes a good thing. Water doesn’t have to be absolutely pure to not have water lilies on it. It can be healthy, flowing water or a spring-fed lake.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Huh, that’s also interesting: “if there is gunk under the surface, there is always evidence of it on the surface.” This interpretation adds a new spin on the quote, thanks! =)

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Love the post and the comments! After a lot of contemplation over the years I believe that surrendering our ego to the understanding that everyone- and everything- has its right to exist and behave without my desire to fit them into my living and thinking patterns is a great way to achieve serenity , as means to reach happiness as an end goal. Acceptance is definitely on my 2020 goal list. Thank you for this post and have an enlightening year!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much! Yeah, the comments on this one are awesome, I should do this more often (usually, my posts are really long). I actually have an idea for a mini-series that would work well with this concept.
      I agree, there’s much serenity to be found in accepting and even appreciating everything the way it is (before changing some of the really bad stuff, obviously).
      Thank you, I wish you all the best for 2020, too. May you achieve your acceptance goal and deepen your happiness! =)

      Liked by 2 people

  8. We built a pond with water lilies and they actually died last winter because of how much the water was filtered. I read a book about establishing a natural pond which requires 1/3 the area to have plants and the water will become clear (though not pure), but my dad didn’t like the pump getting clogged, so he didn’t want any plants after the first water lilies died. I know this is a true quote. Water lilies are so strong, I remember taking just a few from the wild near us and was surprised to be pulling the roots with all my strength, they root into the muck, anchor into it and then spread outward. So it’s literally true for waterlilies, the water can look clear and support them, but it can’t be pure. The arctic ground squirrel can live in -3° weather because it’s blood is so pure that it lacks a nucleus to form ice crystals so it becomes super-cooled rather than iced. The point is that both purity and impurity are part of nature, not only one or the other. I’ve found that in opposites both are vital, sometimes one or the other is appropriate for a situation, but no tool is the best for any repair, no prescription is the best for anyone who needs eye glasses. Like honesty or diplomacy, to say one is always the right choice is overlooking the complexity of life. I would liken purity to honesty, complete honesty can be brutal. Remembering not only that we will die, but that very few people will remember us in three generations past whether or not we have children, that is something that is true, but doesn’t need to be constantly on our minds. At my age it gives me a peaceful feeling, but I wouldn’t tell it to my children all day long. It’s also possible that any of us may change the world and be remembered, but on average that is unlikely. Going back to the quote I think things like human creativity and new ideas need a little chaos, the impurity for me is chaos or randomness or pressure from stress. I’m reading “Anti-Fragile” right now, it talks about living systems benefiting from stress (to a point). So if you want “water lilies” you allow some chaos (perhaps entertaining new ideas, new ways of thinking), but nature will at some times favor purity (perhaps a yearly winter reflection of brutal honesty). I’ve noticed my sister gets stuck in being honest in her mind at all times, it sounds good, but can prevent action. Thinking is an action, so over thinking prevents action and burns real calories and real time as well. I am also a thinker, but I have always used action as a type of thought, a source of input, imagining the world as also a book or game, I don’t neglect to enjoy it for any long period of time. I would at the end liken the pure pond as a pond with only your own truth in it, just one voice. The impurities would contain reality that is also true, but that you haven’t processed yet. There is always a lag between when you physically and mentally “see” something. Perhaps you see with your eyes the shower is growing mold, but you don’t mentally see it until Friday, or you see injustice in the world, but you don’t mentally see it, because if you did it would drain you of your happiness or the energy you need to act on a different injustice you already prioritized. We are constantly resisting what is to some extent. We see something new, then we can accept that or resist it (though it will still exist). So the impurities are truths we haven’t accepted, they are reality, and the water lilies are goals we want to meet, we accept reality on the path of various goals, we take little by little the truth of the world and process it into our truth. 💮

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wow, it’s awesome that you have experienced the truth of the quote in real life!! This makes it so much stickier, also for me 🙂
      I also like your point about too much honesty. I tend to be on the “the more honesty the better” side of things, but I have experienced the harm of unwise honesty, too.
      “the impurities are truths we haven’t accepted, they are reality, and the water lilies are goals we want to meet” – this is also a really original thought on this quote and I like it. Agreed! =)

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Happy New Year’s Thomas, I really loved one of your articles about finding happiness in the rain other people were annoyed by, I took a walk on a rainy day the other day with my daughter and son (bundled up warmly) and we all enjoyed it, my husband was getting off work early, came home, saw that we were out somewhere in the rain and tried to “rescue” us, but since we walked home via the college road he didn’t meet us, but even if we did meet he couldn’t have rescued us (only joined us) because we had a fantastic time.

    There is a song by Grover Washington about the rain “Just the Two of Us” that describes the rain in such a lovely way it changed the way I think about rain (though I was always a pluviophile):

    “I see the crystal raindrops fall And the beauty of it all… I hear the crystal raindrops fall On the window down the hall And it becomes the morning dew” As we took that walk I thought about your article and wondered if knew that our walk was made possible from your article (which I’m sure you didn’t). Though I love the rain, I didn’t think about taking my children out in the rain before, even though they have good hooded jackets… it was your article that shifted my view that “everyone” else hated being out in the rain and made that walk possible. Last year was my first year blogging and there was a blogger in the East US, South Africa and yourself who really interested me in that though we don’t know each other, some of our ideas are intersecting. I am hoping that perhaps we can do some collaborative kinds of articles (with no time frame). One idea that comes to mind is finding out if we all have different or the same “tendencies” based on Gretchen Rubin’s system and explore how that affects our mental lens of the world: https://quiz.gretchenrubin.com/four-tendencies-quiz/ if not perhaps an exploration of habit loops and habit change in real life. Either way, happy new years to you and thank you for the articles! 💐 (The flowers represent a celebration of different people’s souls and opinions to me, 🌻 being a celebration of myself and the bouquet 💐 being a way of saying here is to diversity – you – myself – everyone in harmony.)

    On Sun, Jan 5, 2020 at 1:13 PM The Happiness Nerd wrote:

    > Thomas posted: ” Photo by Jay Castor on Unsplash Hello my dear happiness > nerds, welcome (back)! Sorry for the relatively long absence, I’ve been > very busy with real-life deadlines. As this state of affairs will likely > outlast this January, I’d thought I’d give yo” >

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, a happy New Year to you and your family, too! 🙂

      Ah, wow, I love the fact that my post inspired you to take a walk in the rain! It can be so beautiful and cleansing, thanks for sharing this experience with me!

      Thanks, I’ll check out the quiz! As a social and personality psychologist, it’s always fun to see what’s floating around outside academia. I’m humbled by you suggesting to collaborate, thank you! Can you get back to me with that in a few months? Right now I’m swamped beyond hope ^.^’

      Thank you for making me a flower in your bouquet! As you say: Here is to diversity – you – myself – everyone in harmony ❤ All the best and hope to read you again, soon, Sakura-chan!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. lilies are designed in such a way to cope up in murky waters , ‘survival conditions ‘!! In the same way, we humans are kept into such situations of life ( either positive or negative ) is only because we have the innate potential to cope up with them . “Self realisation “is the key , never get attached to any situations nor brood upon them as they are temporary! 😊

    Liked by 2 people

  11. ”If you purify the pond, the water lilies die.”

    – William Stafford

    This quote is deep. To me, it means do not judge people because you know their dirty root (Imperfections) but understand that it is okay to be imperfect and there is no real thing as perfect . Also understand that perfection lies in imperfection. What is perfect to you may not be perfect to another #if you think purifying the pond makes the lilies grow then you are wrong, they will eventually die because clean water is not okay for their growth. And who is to judge anyway?
    you are beautiful because of your flaws,quirks,and weirdness. Do not hide them! Do not let people change you because of what they feel should be perfect. What works for you do not work for another. Embrace your imperfections. The greatest excitement of life is in growth and progress.

    Thanks Thomas for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You speak straight from the heart! “you are beautiful because of your flaws,quirks,and weirdness. Do not hide them! Do not let people change you because of what they feel should be perfect” – love it!
      Thanks so much for reading and leaving such a beautiful comment! All the best, Thomas =)

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Without the challenges and difficulties, we will have no way of discovering our potential and our beauty. We won’t have the awareness of feeling alive. Without mistakes, disappointments, setbacks, our personality wouldn’t formed, and our deepest self would never have blossomed. The dark times allow us to show our light and beauty.

    Happy new year! To you and to whoever is reading! Lovely post! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your beautifully worded and very true comment! I like the new aspect you bring to the discussion: Challenges, difficulties, and mistakes, the things we might like to purify away from our lives, let the water lilies, us, grow 🙂

      Really liked your latest post, too, and encourage everyone who reads this to go over to your blog and read it! All the best, Thomas

      Liked by 1 person

  13. My husband and I visited Angkor Wat in Cambodia a few years ago. There is a large pond (lake?) in front filled with themes beautiful water lilies. As the sun rises, the ruins of the temple are reflected in the water. To me, the lilies represented the temporal nature of beauty, the strength and fragility of life in an impure world, one often ransacked and left to ruination, just as the temple had been.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for your beautiful comment! Yes, the water lilies in front of Angkor Wat are really beautiful, I took many pictures of them =) The rise and fall of civilizations is much like the growth and death of water lilies or like the rise and fall of one’s chest while breathing. This comforts me, we don’t have to fight change, the fight is pointless and change is beautiful.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Reblogged this on craig's thoughts and commented:
    thanks for the like, Thomas

    “waking up” c
    “Together, one mind, one life (one small step at a time), let’s see how many people (and lives) we can encourage, impact, empower, enrich, uplift and perhaps even inspire to reach their fullest potentials…and strive for and perhaps one sunny day even achieve their wildest dreams.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. “If you purify the point, the lillies die”
    What an amazing thing to hear and so true. We humans tend to change for others, not realizing that in the process of doing so, we’re losing ourselves.
    And then THOSE people will leave you telling you’ve changed

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Right?! I love this quote! 😊 You’re bringing up an interesting association: Becoming more “pure“ regarding others’ wishes can kill the very “imperfection“ that kept the lilies of the relationship alive. I haven’t seen this association yet, so thanks for your contribution!

      Liked by 2 people

  16. Well i would interpret it as the way everyone perceives things is different. For the water lilies, pure pond is what they are growing in. But, for the others pure pond means something else. So everything is about one’s perception. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  17. I love how such short phrases can get the mind thinking. To me, the muddy pond is the environment of growth and the waterlilies are the results. You can’t have immaculate growth without going through hardships! 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, that’s the magic of poets and true intellectuals, I love it 🙂 I see it the same way: The hardships make the pond muddy, but without them, real growth isn’t possible. And growth is beautiful like waterlillies 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  18. I take it to mean that we still benefit from our mistakes throughout the rest of our lives. The lessons we learn and the experiences we gain all contribute to us becoming better people. Since we’re imperfect humans, we learn way more from our mistakes and if you wash all of that away our growth will be stunted. We see this on a small scale with overprotective parents. Not allowing children to bump their head, to fall down, to get their feelings hurt, or be disciplined can be detrimental to their well-being later in life. All of us have a dirty pond, but we can thrive from the lessons we learn from the dirty mistakes we’ve made. The Bible is full of examples of people that made terrible mistakes but learned the lessons (Cain, David, Solomon, Moses, to name a few). We can benefit from studying these accounts as those lessons can help us today.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wow, thanks for your great input! Yeah, that totally works, I think. Growing a beautiful lily involves some icky mistakes. But mistakes are absolutely necessary to grow them – the overprotective parents seem to forget that. Here’s to facing mistakes without fear and the willingness to learn from them =)

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  19. Very nice quote, in fact nymphs live on what they purify, when there is nothing left to purify, they die or should be transported to new ponds to be purified. In fact, the purified pond, if you remove the nymphs, becomes impure. Theirs is a life in symbiosis. Wonder of nature

    Liked by 2 people

      1. To clean stagnant water, nymphs are a natural remedy, obviously it was too ingenious and capitalist society invented sanitation services that fish for waste or water to move them further, so they create a vicious circle, someone will call to clean the new dirty site . This does not actually create wealth, but greater poverty and environmental ruin

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