Imagine yourself sitting in a café with time to spare. You are looking at the fascinating variety of people passing like an improvised drama set up just for you. You slowly sip your tea, savoring the moments of solitude. Thoughts pass through your mind, but you feel no pressing need to act on any of them. According to Roger Housden (How Rembrandt Reveals Your Beautiful, Imperfect Life), this art of doing nothing has been perfected by many European cultures where productivity and being number one are less important than savoring the many simple pleasures of life: "They eat the best food on the planet, drink the best wine, take the longest vacations, surround themselves with spectacular architecture, and come up with some of the best art, dance, and music. In short, they enjoy themselves."
In this spiritually savvy volume, Housden contends that Americans are so pragmatic and driven that they have a hard time relishing the delights of this world. He challenges us to move beyond our culture of self-denial, negativism, and punishment to embrace "seven sins" the pleasures of the senses, being foolish, not knowing all the answers, giving up on perfection, doing nothing useful, celebrating the ordinary, and coming home. These pages are filled with tart and astute observations on changes we can make in the way we live so our days are more joyful.
The materialism that always seeks to purchase the latest product and never cherishes the one we bought last year is an attachment to novelty that can expand into an obsession. Better the adab practices of Sufis who kiss a book or a fallen object in the home as a sign of respect. Housden quotes a work by Salman Rushdie where he talks about the Indian habit of kissing holy books and other things as well.
There is a playfulness to some of the seven sins. Housden acknowledges that in his moments of foolishness, he has felt closely connected to others. He concurs with Wes Nisker who suggests that the best thing for humanity would be to celebrate our foolishness and to rejoice together on April Fool's Day. This is all a far cry from Housden's own admission of doing things to accentuate his specialness and to have others be impressed by how different he is. The virtues explored in this imaginative work open our hearts and minds to a less calculating, anxious, and productive way of life.