A Case for Contentment

Monday, March 18, 2013 | 1 Comment(s)

Hey Mattitiyahu, what do you want to be when you grow up?

Just like all of you, I have been asked this question at various periods throughout my life.  

As a kindergardener, you're asked what you want to be when you grow up unironically.  "Growing up" is a time period you understand as being ahead of you, and you are young enough that you have no formal understanding of how that process will work.  At five, I wanted to be a zoo nutritionist (getting to make the meals and feed all the animal at a zoo) or a professional babysitter.  I did babysit professionally for a few years in high school, but eventually the gruesome training schedule got the better of me and I fell out of the pro game.

In high school the 'profession question' is wrapped inside a college choice and potential 'major'.  If you want to be a biologist you should look at colleges that have a strong department.   Entering college my nutritionist dreams had been shaped into a zoology/biology double major (coincidentally, this was actually my father's major in college).  

Exiting college five years later, as a dance and psychology major incidentally, this question is asked un-ironically for the last time.  This iteration is stuffed inside all college seniors least favorite moment: When friends and relatives ask them what their plans are "post-college."  This is essentially asking, "what do you want to be now that your are almost a grown up."  Around this time, I developed my answer to all questions that took the tenor of, or even hinted at moving in a direction of taking the tenor of, a "life plans" conversation.  

I would simply say, "I want to be happy when I grow up."

Frustrating.  Full of wise-assery.  True.  And deflecting.   It is the perfect asinine response to the most ubiquitous imbecilic question.

Unfortunately, it's a total friggin lie.  A double dipper of a lie in reality.  The first dip is implying that I'm aiming for happiness.  The second (more philosophical) dip is that happiness is not a sustainable emotion, and therefore impossible to achieve as a life goal.  

So let me make an important amendment in what began as an answer in jest and ended as a joke of an answer.  I no longer chase rainbows, because I always seem to find their ends too quickly.  I need a new life goal that is both attainable and sustainable.  Something to drive towards but not over.  And here it is:

"I am hoping for contentment in my future."

I know, I know.  One ineffable feeling state after another.  "What the hell is contentment supposed to mean?  Like, compared to the happiness that you just bagged on?"  Fair question.  

The past two weeks I sat on my living room couch alone (or sometimes with puppies) on Sunday night and I thought to myself, "Today . . . today was a solid day.  In a string of similarly solid days. It was productive.  I saw some friends.  Solid.  

I wasn't "happy." As any witnesses to me being happy can contend -- I am an active and vocal happy person.  Bouncy even.  In this case I was just aware that for that day, and the one's prior, the goods outweighed the bads.

That's a win.

Because, past a certain age, there are no days without bad.  Bad is as fundamental to the picture of life as the waxing and waning moon.  And while you may not love the darkness, things just aren't the same without it (ask Alaskans).  The more you can integrate the darkness as the shading on your life's mural, emphasizing the positives and providing a space for struggle, the less that darkness will feel like a mural all its own.

And when you see the positive and negative of life all together, instead of as two separate binary processes, you begin to find your own balance between them.   And when that balance doesn't feel like a constant burning anxiety/depression/deadline/life-chore/gasp-for-breath, you've found contentment.  

Congrats!!! Please spread it around.  We could all use some more.


1 comment:

  1. This is quite good. Thanks for yet another bit of fresh perspective on an otherwise cruddy day!