I am very, very happy with my life.
As I was luxuriating on our porch Sunday morning with our cat (luxuriating is something that this cat is an expert on and I was looking to her for some pointers) I was thinking that life really and truly is “perfect” for me right now. I need nothing, I have all the money and resources necessary to get anything that I want (if I really want it), our house is beautiful, our property is beautiful, my wife and I are still happy together after 30-years of marriage, I could probably afford to retire now at the age of 60 if I wanted to and even my job – although it sometimes annoys me to have to go in to it rather than spend 100% of my time lying around the house luxuriating like a cat – is as perfect a job as I could possibly wish for. In fact, it did occur to me that one of the reasons why I am so happy with my situation is that I do have to go to work, and so I value what we have at home all the more because I am not there all the time and it is all the more precious to me when I am.
Yes, my life right now truly is “Perfect”.
Ironically, this perfection in life also makes me a little nervous however, because as I mentioned to my wife a week or two ago, there is nowhere to go but “Down” from here. This will happen one-of-these-days too. Someday one of us will develop a serious medical issue because that is what getting old does; or there will be a sudden and unforeseen accident that will change things; or I will someday retire and our net-worth will then inevitably begin to decline bringing with it all the cark of an uncertain future. Still – you need to appreciate and enjoy what you have when you have it and not waste time fretting over nebulous “What-Ifs” that may never come to pass.
I heard a feature on NPR radio over the weekend that was talking about what it takes to “Achieve Happiness”. They started off by observing that many people, even some who seem to “Have It All” are still very dissatisfied and unhappy with life. One of the commentators – a Buddhist monk I think – said that while many people assume that folks who are happy are grateful, it is in fact the gratefulness that comes first and is actually causing the happiness. I’m not fond of the word “grateful” in this context because this implies offering thanks toward a sentience (like a friend) who has willfully done something nice for you. Of course, Christians, Muslims and Jews would all say that this is absolutely correct, but I prefer to think of this in more abstract and impersonal terms. Be this good fortune that I am now enjoying a product of God’s grace, a product of my own cleverness and hard-work, random and arbitrary chance or a mysterious alchemy of all three, I would rather use the word “appreciation” to define how I feel about it. Invariably, the happiest periods of my life were those (like now) when I recognized and appreciated the good things that I had at the time, regardless of the objective circumstances or any “challenges” that may also have coexisted at that point. The unhappy times in my life (well, maybe “less happy” is a better expression) were those when I was grudgingly and stoically accepting my situation and “persevering”, but when I didn’t actually “embrace” my status regardless of how much money, stuff or other environmental factors there were in my favor.
The point that the Buddhist monk was making in this NPR program, and with which I completely agree, is that this “embracing of circumstances” and “appreciating of what you have” and “gratefulness” is; A) unrelated to the actual objective conditions you are in; B) entirely conscious and deliberate – i.e. in your head. This is why some people who may seem to be in truly desperate condition can at the same time be truly and deeply happy with life in spite of their state of affairs.
So – if you want to be happy, don’t “accept” and “persevere” – those are Bad Things – rather, “Embrace” and “Appreciate”. Happiness really is just as simple as that.