Opinion | Baby Boomers Reach the End of Their To-Do List

But meditating is just another thing. Yoga? Another task, another item for the to-do list.

This battle between striving and serenity may be distinctly American. The struggle between toil and the dream of ease is an American birthright, the way a Frenchman expects to have decent wine at a reasonable price, and the whole month of August on vacation.

Maybe it goes all the way back to the Declaration of Independence, our founding document. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. How proud I’ve always been, through the years of protesting, the radical this and progressive that of my 1960s generation, to think of those words.

That unlikely word — happiness — made me proud to be an American, not just for my own sake, but that everyone was enjoined to find a personal project of delight. Of course happiness is an illusion. Still, I’ll pledge allegiance to it.

But happiness is the only word in the Declaration of Independence triad that doesn’t stand alone. Happiness is not, like life and liberty, a given. Happiness in the American credo is a job. It must be pursued. It may not be clear what happiness is, but you better get hold of it. Your fault, sucker, if you can’t somehow nab it for yourself.

The essential American word isn’t happiness. It’s pursuit.

This is where the struggle is engaged, happiness as a national enterprise. Its pursuit is the loneliness coiled within the heart of the American dream.

Even a postmodern to-do list is not the answer. Go ahead — meditate, do yoga, eat probiotic foods, all that.

But how about just giving up? What about wasting time? Giving up or perhaps giving over. To what? Perhaps what an earlier age called “the life of the mind,” the phrase that describes the sovereign self at ease, at home in the world. This isn’t the mind of rational thought, but the lost music of wondering, the sheer value of looking out the window, letting the world float along. It’s nothing, really, this wasted time, which is how it becomes, paradoxically, charged with “everything,” liberated into the blessed loss of ambition.

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