“I have noticed in the changing fortunes of a long life that the periods of the sweetest joy and keenest pleasures are not those whose memory is most moving and attractive to me. Those brief moments of madness and passion, however powerfully they may affect us, can because of this very power only be infrequent points along the line of our life. They are too rare and too short-lived to constitute a durable state, and the happiness for which my soul longs is not made up of fleeting moments, but of a single and lasting state, which has no very strong impact in itself, but which by its continuance becomes so captivating that we eventually come to regard it as the height of happiness.
Everything is in constant flux on this earth. Nothing keeps the same unchanging shape, and our affections, being attached to things outside us, necessarily change and pass away as they do. Always out ahead of us or lagging behind, they recall a past which is gone or anticipate a future which may never come into being; there is nothing solid there for the heart to attach itself to. Thus our earthly joys are almost without exception the creatures of a moment; I doubt whether any of us knows the meaning of lasting happiness. Even in our keenest pleasures there is scarcely a single moment of which the heart could truthfully say: ‘Would that this moment could last for ever!’ And how can we give the name of happiness to a fleeting state which leaves our hearts still empty and anxious, either regretting something that is past or desiring something that is yet to come?
But if there is a state where the soul can find a resting-place secure enough to establish itself and concentrate on its entire being there, with no need to remember the past or reach into the future, where time is nothing to it, where the present runs on indefinitely but his duration goes unnoticed, with no sign of the passing of time, and no other feeling of deprivation or enjoyment, pleasure or pain, desire or feat than the simple feeling of existence, a feeling that fills our soul entirely, as long as this state lasts, we can call ourselves happy, not with a poor, incomplete and relative happiness such as we find in the pleasures of life, but with a sufficient, complete and perfect happiness which leaves no emptiness to be filled in the soul…
What is the source of our happiness in such a state? Nothing external to us, nothing apart from ourselves and our own God. The feeling of existence unmixed with any other emotion is in itself a precious feeling of peace and contentment and cherished by anyone who could guard against all earthly and sensual influences that are constantly distracting us from it in this life and troubling the joy it could give us. But most men being continually stirred by passion know little of this condition, and having only enjoyed it fleetingly and incompletely they retain no more than a dim and confused notion of it and are unaware of its true charm. Nor would it be desirable in our present state of affairs that the avid desire for these sweet ecstasies should give people a distaste for the active life which their constantly recurring needs impose upon them. But an unfortunate man who has been excluded from human society, and can do nothing more in this world to serve or benefit himself or others, may be allowed to seek in this state compensation for human joys, a compensation which neither fortune nor mankind can take away from him.
It is true that such compensations cannot be experienced by every soul or in every situation. The heart must be at peace and calm untroubled by any passion. The person in question must be suitably disposed and the surrounding objects conducive to his happiness.”
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Meditations of a Solitary Walker