Accidental Happiness

From The Enchanted Woods: and Other Essays on the Genius of Places (1905), by Vernon Lee:

There is no folly more vain or fruitless than to manipulate one’s own happiness! My growing belief is that the journeys richest in pleasant memories are those undertaken accidentally, or under the stress of necessity; moreover, that the most interesting places are those which we stray into, or just deflect towards, as we wander for the sake of friends or work, or even in humbler quest of cheapness of living or economy of health. This belief that the best travel is not for travelling’s sake goes hand in hand with a certain philosophy of life, very vague, difficult to define, but perhaps the deeper down and more inevitable, forcing itself upon one with every added year of experience. As we continue to live, and see more of our own and other folks’ lives behind, or alongside of us, there arises a dim comprehension of some mysterious law by which the good things of life, all the happiness–nay, the very power of being happy–are not life’s aims but life’s furtherance, and their true possession depends on willing and uncalculating response to life’s multifold and changing beckonings and behests. Life itself is a journey from an unknown starting point to an unknown goal. We who move along its tracks cannot overlook the roads which cross and recross one another in endless intricacy; and the maps we make for ourselves are the mere scrawlings of fanciful children. All we can do, while thus travelling we know neither whence nor whither, is to keep our eyes clear, our feet undefiled, to drop as much useless baggage as possible, and fill our hands with the fruits and herbs, sweet or salutary, of the roadside. But if we imagine that we can bend our course to the hidden Temples of Sais, or the Gardens of Armida, or the Heavenly Jerusalem, why! there is no mischief in hoping; only, methinks we shall be disappointed. For wisdom, beauty–nay, holiness itself–are not regions of the soul, attainable and separate kingdoms; but rather, methinks, modes in which the soul carries itself, or not, along the mysterious journey to which it is elected or condemned.