I read this post by Angie and had enough thoughts surface that I wanted to respond in post. I’ve touched on these topics before but have more to say.
We live in a culture that encourages us to want more, more of everything. It’s our siren song. It is very difficult to resist its pull and stay a functioning, reasonably respected member of society. People who truly resist, who refuse to run the races, climb the ladders, collect the prizes, aspire for more of everything, and who live on the periphery and beyond, are not looked on kindly. Something must be wrong with them. And truth be told, oftentimes – at least sometimes – there is.
I wonder too, is it essentially part of the human condition to be dissatisfied? To want? Philosophers and social scientists and religious scholars have long devoted their work to these questions. I know how all that desirin’ and covetin’ is said to be the root of unhappiness. For me though, the questions remain unanswered. I’m too entrenched in my Western, first world point of view to know how much is in my DNA – and subsequently more difficult to shake – and how much is culturally driven when it comes to wants and satisfaction.
I tell you this. I recognize these things in myself and others. A certain amount of wanting can drive a person to get things done, be productive, and improve their lot. We get into trouble, though, when there’s no joy to be had, no pleasure in living and life is always focused on the end zone or what’s next. Or simply, on what’s wrong.
Some years back people, mainly women, started talking about and writing “Gratitude journals.” The idea being to shift one’s focus from a litany of complaints, grievances, and dissatisfactions to the good stuff that is often overlooked and/or taken for granted. The idea is that where you put your focus, your experiences will follow. I.e., what you think about is what you’ll get more of, so you can retrain your brain according to the theory, and consequently change your circumstances (or at least how you feel about them).
I never kept a Gratitude journal; it wasn’t quite my style. Instead, I came up with my own little practice that I do from time to time. In that (ideally) brief period of wakefulness before going to sleep, when one’s mind looks over the day or revisits grievances or whatever else it is inclined to do, I ask myself to mentally list ten good things in my life. They might be events or people or tangible things. They need only be positive. It’s an interesting exercise. It doesn’t preclude having whatever unhappy or worried thoughts I might have, but it must minimally be done in addition to them.
Knocking out five or so isn’t too hard. But as the number gets higher, sometimes I must stretch a bit or repeat ones from a previous accounting. “My bed” and “a refrigerator full of good food” are frequent listees. That’s okay. There’s no harm in acknowledging and appreciating such basic parts modern life. In fact, it’s good. Not everybody has those things. They are marvelous gifts. I need to remember that.
This links to something else from the original post. The fear many of us have of not having enough, not being enough. It seems insufficient – or so the message goes – to be thought of, or consider ourselves and our lives as “ordinary.” Ordinary is clearly nothing to be proud of; one must be constantly defending their own existence. Heaven forbid you just go about your quiet business and take up space. My thought here is that statistically speaking alone, most people are bound to be ordinary. How many “extraordinary” people do you know?
Unfortunately, too many people feel a pressure to “puff themselves up,” to sell themselves like mad in an effort to compensate for this ordinariness they feel within themselves. They are SO busy, their lives are jam-packed, they have SO much going on, they say. The virtuousness of the busy. I do think some people thrive on constant motion, activity, and chaos, but not nearly so many as who live by these practices. Scrambling all around does not seem to make them all that happy or peaceful. It just makes them occupied.