I write myself notes about my life. The ones that are short and to the point I sometimes tape up where I will see them. These aren’t the “inspirational” sort, not the traditional variety anyway: “You are great! You are beautiful! You can do anything!” Eh…that’s just not for me. If need be, I’d write a note that said “Don’t be an idiot.” Sometimes that’s what I need to hear. I’m not sure it would be a best seller in the inspirational poster market.
There is no point in having a lot of notes up or I wouldn’t be paying attention to any particular one. This isn’t something I do religiously anyway. It’s only if I feel like it or think I need to be reminded of a specific thing. I recently put this one on the back of my door. It’s an older one that I’d put away, saw again, and thought: I want to read that now.
When I initially wrote it I was mainly thinking of things, that is, objects, but this note means more than that and I know it. It means Hey! Appreciate what you have, whatever it is. Yes, pretty things, like home decorations and clothes, but also, things like physical strength, a sound mind, a quick wit, or an ability to make things – a home, a garden, an outfit, even a piece of writing – beautiful. I need to figuratively take my own head and turn it in the direction of what I have as opposed to what I don’t as I assure you I’d have no trouble listing out my shortcomings and failings and what I don’t have. It is so, so easy to focus on what we lack whether it’s objects or intangibles.
People talk A LOT about the consumer culture grabbing us all by the throat and making us covetous, greedy, selfish people who WANT, WANT, WANT. By god, they say, it’s seeing how celebrities and rich folk live that makes us so green with envy and dissatisfied. Seeing the glamorous lives that look so perfect (until they don’t) makes us want to emulate them. Or just seeing all the ads and commercials for shiny new stuff fuels our wanting.
I’m here to say nope. Or not entirely. I think there’s a basic greed in our nature, a desire for more, and a dissatisfaction with what is. If the essential trait wasn’t there inside (most) people we’d be unmoved when sparkly objects and glammed-up lives were dangled in front of us. It wouldn’t register. I bet Thag lived in his cave and thought it was pretty good until he saw Thor’s bigger cave and then wanted it for himself! Maybe he plotted how to drive Thor out so he could get the better cave.
Ancient people protected their hunting grounds, and fishing waters, and good lands for growing crops. They fought for them. And when they saw better ones that were already in use, they frequently battled to get those. The feelings that drove them came from their own nature not a consumer culture or social media. It’s a myth to imagine it was all ever kumbaya! Or that back-in-the-day people were always satisfied with their (shabby) lot.
I maintain there is something in our nature that both wants to protect what we have and to get more. Even people who live with extremely little, whether it’s in the woods, or on the streets, can be fiercely protective of what they have.
They’ve done studies (you know, “they”) where it’s shown that any time someone gets a new thing, they appreciate it for awhile, but then, the appreciation falls off over a predictable period of time.Why, why, why, do we forget that about ourselves? Over and over we get the “new thing” in whatever form it takes and imagine all will be transformed and our essential selves strikingly different.
Many of us were brought up to believe that life was, or SHOULD be, a progression of bettering our lot. It’s all up. That’s the American Dream, the American Way. Just keep trading up. Make more money, get a better job, a better car, a better house, a better wife. Up, up, up.
But life doesn’t work that way for a whole lot of people. It can be shockingly disillusioning. IF we hadn’t been groomed on the up, up, up, philosophy, it might not be as bad. But it’s the difference between what we THINK we should have and what we actually have that is the undoing of many.
It isn’t just a matter of “being happy with what you have” either. Because there are always new potential losses out there waiting for us. Bob Greene, the fitness expert, has this great quote (paraphrased), he said years ago about how there are infinite ways to go forward in life and infinite ways to go back. That struck me so much. Too often motivational people speak only about the rosey life that awaits you. Greene’s words rang true but because of the up, up, up business it is an easy idea to overlook. Things can always be worse. Nothing stays static. And up is not the only option.
The person who quit drinking for 10 years can start again. The cancer can come back. The 50 pounds lost can be regained. The cleaned-up house can return to squalor. Physical and mental decline with age can make someone’s life smaller and smaller. The drugs taken for a short term problem can turn into a long term problem. The money can be invested can be entirely lost. A spouse can die. An illness can strike. A car accident can devastate.
My point isn’t to be doomist. Really it isn’t. The things I’m talking about are a reminder. I need to hear them. There is no promise of more. Or better. No guarantee. The reality is most of us are about as happy as we will ever be because so much of our happiness or lack thereof is rooted in how we think. How we think about our circumstances. What we tell ourselves. The loop tapes in our heads. Not what we tell other people. Not what we think we should believe. It’s all in what you tell yourself. That’s why I write notes to myself. They are never lies. They are never things I don’t believe. But sometimes they are things I need to be reminded.