On Being Not NOT Happy
A few weeks back - oh gosh, it must have been over a month now - I had breakfast with one of my favourite women. We get together somewhat regularly to talk about science, art, literature, love, entrepreneurship, spirituality, and rail against racism, sexism, ableism, exclusion, confinement, climate change deniers, flat earthers, Nazi's, and whatever happens to be pressing in our minds or on the news. We usually make at least a few people uncomfortable. It's magical, and a highlight of every month for me. I always walk away inspired and uplifted.
This particular breakfast we were talking about life plans. What we were up to personally and professionally, what we were struggling with, where we were going, what our dreams and aspirations were. And through that conversation came a discussion of the culturally-invasive concept of being not not happy. Ex. Do you like your job? Yeah, its okay. It's not what I want to be doing, but it pays the bills. Are you happy there? Well, I'm not not happy...
I understand that sentiment very well. I have spent a lot of my life doing things that weren't bad, weren't awful, maybe were moving me in the right direction or providing something I needed at that moment, but still didn't make me happy. Not totally unhappy, but not happy either. And let me tell you, even if you're not properly unhappy, not being fully happy is a soul-sucking experience. And this, of course, doesn't just apply to work. This concept can be applied to every aspect of life. And it's praised, for some reason, or at least expected. This awful idea that if you love your work, you're not really working/working hard. The concept that life is suffering, and that if you're not resigned to things the way they are, something is wrong with you. Because it is what it is! I've also found that when you pursue something better, you're often times met with this attitude that you're somehow being self-centered, or that you think you're "special" because you deserve better than everyone else. What? No! I think everyone deserves to be happy, but I can't initiate that action for anyone but myself.
Acknowledging that you're not not happy can feel really cornering. Like, what you have isn't fulfilling, but it isn't bad, and it's making x, y, and/or z possible, so what are you supposed to do? There's always a risk involved, but that's true of every choice you make every single day. If you ditch whatever you're up to in order to try and find something that actually makes you happy, you might never find it and lose the stability you already have. You might hurt someone's feelings. You might not make as much money. You might have to downsize your life, or move, or start over from scratch. You might have wasted all this time. It's a risk. But in most cases, it's not as big of a risk as you make it out to be in your head. And if, or rather when it works out, it's so worth it! That feeling of life returning to you. Like the sun on your skin after a long and harsh winter.
There's also a concept that you just keep your head down, get through this, and someday it will all pay off. You'll finally have time to travel, or pursue your passions, or fall in love... whatever it may be, but for now you have to work hard to get there. And, I mean, that's not bad logic except for one small detail - you have no guarantee that you're going to get that "someday." Things happen. People die, get divorced, stock markets crash, career fields dry up. Or if you're like me, one day when you're a spry 18 year old you come home from a long shift at the coffee shop, bound up the stairs to your room, and half way up you collapse and feel like your heart, along with the rest of your body, is suddenly failing. Everything hurts, and it never stops ever again. Things get progressively worse, and there's no cure. Weird things can happen to you at any point in your life. My best friend died when I was 19. She was 18. She had her whole life ahead of her, acceptance to pre-med at the university of her choice, life plan in place, partner she loved. And one morning on her way to work it was all over.
We have no guarantee of "someday." All you have for sure is right here and now.
I'm not going to tell you what to do with your life. Instead I am going to tell you what I am endeavoring to do with my life. Making it extraordinary! Not settling for adequacy. There are days that are ho-hum, and I do have to work hard and push through things that aren't fun. I'm definitely not saying life will always be fun and easy. But on the whole, I try to structure my life so that every aspect brings me happiness, not apathy. Because life is far too short and uncertain for anything short of fulfillment.
So, (I know I said I wasn't going to tell you what to do, but apparently I lied) pursue that dream job! Look into going back to school. Spend time on your hobby. Kiss the girl. Stop saying "yes" when you really want to say "no." Send a letter to someone you admire. Go on that trip. Do whatever it is for you. I know logistics are hard, but life is so brief. Do the thing that makes your heart skip a beat. Do it while you can. Do it now!