Tracy Lee Karner
Essay, Fiction

10 steps to happiness, from 14th-century Italy

Tracy Lee Karner
Supplication, from “The Decameron,” by Giovanni Boccaccio

“We wish and command that everyone who values our good grace shall bring only cheerful news… wherever he may come from, and whatever he may hear or see.” Giovanni Boccaccio, “The Decameron” (written in 1348, in Italy)

When circumstances become challenging and discouraging, it sometimes helps me to take a broader perspective. History shows that life is filled with tragedies and losses, and that my own problems aren’t quite as magnificently huge as they feel. As scary as recent times have felt; all through the ages, dreadful things have happened and survivors have discovered happiness, despite everything.

Recently I’ve been reading The Decameron, written shortly after the Bubonic Plague wiped out the city of Florence.

It’s the story of ten noble people who assembled for ten nights, and swapped tales (10 tales each night–100 tales in all), which inspired this list:

10 steps to happiness, after devastation 

or,  what can be done when no one (neither doctors, politicians, pastors, philosophers, scientists, family nor friends) can help understand or fix the tragedy

  1.  Flee from people who prey on others’ misfortune to profit themselves, also scorn those who think mass confusion is a license for unbridled lust and gluttony;
  2.  Appoint yourself Queen (or King) of Reasonable Pleasure;
  3.  Boldly issue the decree that no one shall repeat bad news in your presence;
  4.  Appreciate nature–take long walks in the garden, adorn yourself and your friends with flowers;
  5.  Command everyone to get together and be on time for dinner;
  6. Order there to be good food served at a festive table by candle light;
  7.  Wash your hands (and attend to all matters of hygiene) even when you believe death is lurking just behind the door;
  8.  Sing love songs, make music with your friends, and command everyone to dance;
  9. Dance along;
  10. Get restorative sleep, and when the sun is high–making it too warm for games or sport–tell thought-provoking, inspiring stories.
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