Deserving Happiness

27 02 2011

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“This is a sweet expression.  Il bel far niente means “the beauty of doing nothing.”…The beauty of doing nothing is the goal of all your work, the final accomplishment for which you are most highly congratulated…There’s another wonderful Italian expression: l’arte d’arrangiarsi – the art of making something out of nothing.  The art of turning a few simple ingredients into a feast, or a few gathered friends into a festival.  Anyone with a talent for happiness can do this, not only the rich.

For me, though, a major obstacle in my pursuit of pleasure was my ingrained sense of Puritan guilt.  Do I really deserve this pleasure.  This is very American, too – the insecurity about whether we have earned our happiness.  Planet Advertising in America orbits completely around the need to convince the uncertain consumer that yes, you have actually warranted a special treat.  This Bud’s for You!  You Deserve a Break Today!  Because You’re Worth It!  You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!  And the insecure consumer thinks, Yeah!  Thanks!  I am gonna go buy a six-pack, damn it!  Maybe even two six-packs! And then comes the reactionary binge.  Followed by the remorse.  Such advertising campaigns would probably not be as effective in the Italian culture, where people already know that they are entitled to enjoyment in this life.  The reply in Italy to “You Deserve a Break Today” would probably be, Yeah, no duh.  That’s why I’m planning on taking a break at noon, to go over to your house and sleep with your wife.

— Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love (pp. 61-62)

This passage truly resonated with me.

Every time I just go out to drinks or dinners or special events with my friends, there’s a constant nagging at the back of my mind of whether I deserve it, what else I should be doing instead of having fun.

There’s this constant need to keep myself preoccupied, and never forgive myself for not having five projects on the go at any given time.  It’s as if in the midst of juggling balls, letting one go will upset the entire equilibrium, and the whole system collapses.  But is that really a reflection of the truth, or what I perceive is the truth?

Am I deliberately not slowing down just so I don’t have to ask myself these tough questions?

It’s certainly easier to maintain the status quo than to challenge it, and I think this applies, most of all, to our own behaviours, habits, and choices.

Of course, for me, it also ties into the need to make something out of my life.  I feel like I have been blessed with a lot, and there’s the permanent feeling that I’m not doing enough to give back.  Not doing enough to live my life to the fullest.  Not making enough of a difference to my community, my country, the world.

An episode of the West Wing I watched last night was about how the President couldn’t sleep, and thus sees a psychiatrist, who helps him realize that on some level he’s still seeking the approval of his deceased father, and constantly trying to outdo everyone, including past presidents, in hopes of impressing and attaining the love that he never had.

Now, I don’t have the same personal problems that Jed Bartlet has, and I don’t pretend to have delusions of grandeur where I am the President of the United States, and quite frankly I would never want the demands of that job, but I think the jist of his concerns relate to me in some ways.

“They keep moving the goal posts on you, don’t they?
Get A’s, good college, Latin honors…
…get into the London School of Economics…
…get a good teaching job, lvy League school, tenure.
Now you got to publish. Now you gotta go to Stockholm.”

The West Wing (Season 3, Episode 13)

Certainly, there are days when I feel like I’m never good enough.  Never in a place where I can just appreciate what I’ve done.  So preoccupied with the future that the present quickly becomes the past without even a second thought by me.

I know about carpe diem.  I know that I should live today as if it were my last.  And to be fair, I do love life, and I do take the time to have fun and enjoy the company of the amazing people I am fortunate to have in my life.

But there’s this basal level of frustration with myself – a persistent need to keep going up and up and up.  It’s the drive that has pushed me to where I am today, and to continue to grow as a person, but sometimes…sometimes…it’s just tiring and a little overwhelming…you know?

I have no easy solutions, and I don’t think that there are, because I feel like I’ve already changed a lot in terms of trying to be present in the moment, and completely dousing that fire inside of me means changing who I am fundamentally.

It’s just that the fire feels kind of scorching hot, sometimes, and it feels good to write about it…

Balance is easier said than done.

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