Thomas Merton? Anonymous? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: I’ve been wondering about the authenticity of a quote about happiness I came across some time ago. I’ve been unable to find a source so far.
Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.
It was supposedly said by Thomas Merton.
Quote Investigator: The attribution given is correct although the wording of the quotation is slightly different. The conjunction “and” is used three times in the original text. The words appeared in a collection of essays published in 1955 titled “No Man is an Island” in a chapter called “Being and Doing” [TMHI]:
We cannot be happy if we expect to live all the time at the highest peak of intensity. Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance and order and rhythm and harmony.
Music is pleasing not only because of the sound but because of the silence that is in it: without the alternation of sound and silence there would be no rhythm.
Here is some additional information.
Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk who wrote a best-selling autobiography “The Seven Storey Mountain” released in 1948. He spent many years at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. The title of Merton’s book of essays containing the saying was a reference to a famous passage about the connectedness of human lives by the poet and priest John Donne. Merton stated in his prologue:
Nothing at all makes sense, unless we admit, with John Donne, that: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”
In May 1955 the volume was reviewed in the Catholic journal of opinion “The Commonweal” in an article titled “The Mysticism of Thomas Merton”. The reviewer was impressed by the quotation and included it in his discussion of the work [AGCW].
As hitherto, he writes as the Trappist-Cistercian monk, while at the same time contriving to address himself to the world at large. The world would do well to pay heed: …
We cannot be happy if we expect to live all the time at the highest peak of intensity. Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance and order and rhythm and harmony. . . .
In conclusion, the quotation in its common modern variant has been streamlined by the deletion of the conjunction “and”, but the sentence closely matches words written by Thomas Merton in 1955.
(Many thanks to a questioner using the handle Tabibito San for asking about this saying.)
[TMHI] 1955, No Man is an Island by Thomas Merton, Chapter 7: Being and Doing, Quote Page 127, Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York. (Verified on paper)
[AGCW] 1955 May 13, The Commonweal, The Mysticism of Thomas Merton by Aelred Graham, Start Page 155, Quote Page 156, Commonweal Pub. Corp., New York. (Verified on paper)