Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Happiness and stuff
At the end of the year, there are eulogies for the famous dead. Some of these people have taken their own lives. People then say, "Oh, so-and-so was so successful! Why did he commit suicide?!"
Happiness has nothing to do with how successful or talented a person may be. Having a lot versus having little has nothing to do with how happy a person may be. Yes, a recent study showed that money does indeed generate happiness, but only up to a point. As long as a person has a roof over their head, enough money to pay for food, heat, getting their car fixed (or taking the subway), we're all about even.
Being talented may even contribute to being depressed. If one is successful and depressed, one may feel guilt. If one is talented and not successful, one may feel like a failure. Others may judge for not using one's gifts.
There's just too much focus on success in this culture. In a society where adults generally don't play (except in sporting activities or in competitive games such as chess or Scrabble), we can't just "be." If one plays an instrument or sings, we can't just do it for fun. We can't do it in public (especially singing) without being judged as an eccentric. If we write, we must be writers. If we paint or draw, we must be artists. If we do anything, we must "be" that, instead of just doing it.
The "idle rich" used to excel at this. Who would think I'd use them for an example? A cultured young woman would learn to play an instrument, paint, read well out loud, speak a second language, amongst other things. A cultured young man might be an amateur botanist. None of this was considered odd. It was just being a person of culture, which once upon a time was considered a good thing, and not being "an elitist."
Of course, folks who don't need to work for a living have a lot of time on their hands, but heck, us Americans have a good deal of it, and watching a lot of bad television shows or spending one's evening hanging about and drinking beer isn't the best way to spend one's free time.
But, I've gotten off my topic. Excuse me, I've got the flu (but what excuse do I have for any of my other rambles?)
I have many things I'm quite good at, and I say that without any pride. It's simply true. Truth is, it's been a problem in my life. If I articulate that, many people take offense. I "should" be delighted with this problem. I should be grateful for being multi-talented. I am grateful. It has made life quite interesting for me. I am never bored (except when deeply depressed).
However, deciding "what to do" with my life or "what to be" has been problematic. How the heck do I choose?! Truth is, I never did choose. I've been a transcriptionist, tutor, waitress (briefly), receptionist (awful!), clothing store owner, tattooist, musician, weaver, crafts teacher, illustrator, fine artist, web designer, sheep farmer. . .and I'm probably leaving out something. I worked at McDonald's in high school, and was actually "good at it", enough to be slated to go into training to become a manager, something so abhorrent to me that I immediately quit that loathsome job.
I bristle at "being" anything other than simply a human being. Oh, how people argue with me! Julie, you are an artist! You should "own it"!
Why? Why is saying "I am a _______" of any worth?
Well, if I wanted to be a real success at anything, it would be helpful.
Folks, I am an underachiever. The truth is, even though I wouldn't mind being more financially secure, I really have no desire to be successful. Being successful, to me, is feeling a-okay with just being. I think if more people spent time pursuing that goal, everyone would be a lot happier.
Those of you who are something might feel a bit better if that thing wasn't working out that well. In these days of high unemployment, simply thinking of ourselves as John or Ryan or Sally or Michaela would probably be of great value. Think of all the people who become depressed upon retirement. They've stopped having a reason to live, or simply something to do. Even the most avid golfer might get tired of playing golf all day. Vacations are simply that - vacations.
If we all learned to play an instrument, sang and played in public, or with friends, read out loud, took up plein painting, wrote for pleasure and not potential profit, were amateur scientists, and did not judge ourselves for how far we took any of those things, everyone's life would be ever so much richer.
If we could stop asking ourselves why we've "failed" at not making any money doing things that are pleasurable, our lives would be far nicer. Then, perhaps folks wouldn't get to the point where they're wondering why they're still miserable if and when they achieve success.
Everyone says money doesn't buy happiness. Everyone says success doesn't buy happiness. We have scads of magazines at the supermarket showing us how messed up celebrities' lives are just to remind us of these facts. But, no, we do not honestly believe it. Maybe it's time we tried.
Image note: Marguerite Gerard"Artist Painting a Portrait of Musician" Before 1803