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


Dick Fischbeck said...

" I really have no desire to be successful. Being successful, to me, is feeling a-okay with just being."

This part confuses me! Maybe you mean there are different meanings of what successful is?

Julie H. Rose said...

Stickler! You're right. If I edited this, I'd rewrite it as, "I have no desire to be successful as our society generally defines it. Being successful, to me, is. . ."

Nika said...

Agree. Realizing how frighteningly fleeting life is makes us do these things. We want to "make our mark" upon the world and define ourselves in very certain terms. I think it's good to become more comfortable with being less defined.

Dick Fischbeck said...

Hey. Stickler is pejorative. I am trying to help AND understand. Not trying to be malevolent. Discussion is good.

You know, just by being alive after 2 billion years of animal evolution, and after still being alive after 3 million years of human evolution, we are success by definition!

Dick Fischbeck said...

yes- there are people that stickle, and, yes, this is an annoying behavior. but i'm not doing that, at least not that i know of, in this situation.

am i still stickling?

is facebook all stickling? perhaps it is.

jmcleod76 said...

Someone did a study and found that the most content people make around $40,000. Much less than that, and you worry about paying the bills (depending, of course on where you live and whether you have student loans to pay off, I guess ...). Much more won't make you any happier, and may just create pressure to make more or live up to a certain standard, or whatever. Sounds about right to me. That specific number may not be exactly right for everyone, but the principal seems sound.

I think about what you've said about leisure all the time. I tell M. I wouldn't work if I didn't have to, bit I really just mean I wouldn't punch a clock full-time. I'd find millions of beautiful and useless ways to spend my time (and maybe even some useful ones, like volunteering more). I've also been thinking bout this a lot recently, reading "A Sand County Almanac." Leopold talks a lot about amateur naturalists who made important biological discoveries, just out of pure desire to know. I don't think many people do things like that anymore. Sure, there are birders and wildlife enthusiasts out there, but it seems like we leave the actual knowledge gathering to the "experts." Too bad ...

Julie H. Rose said...

If the figure is that high, then I really SHOULD be depressed.

Would that all of us engaged in non-punch the clock inquiry!

As to the world "stickler" - I meant it teasingly. As I said, I saw the flaw in my writing, but I thought I was being a stickler!

I, too, think it's good to be comfortable being less defined. I'm afraid that the rest of our culture generally disagrees, however.

Dick Fischbeck said...

In Eutopia, everyone has good food and shelter, and healthcare and education, free automatically. Like on StarTrek. I'm going to retire asap. Why wait.

jmcleod76 said...

My desk calendar thought for the day dovetails nicely with this post:

"Contentment is natural wealth. Luxury is artificial poverty." -Socrates

Dick Fischbeck said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dick Fischbeck said...


Julie H. Rose said...

The link leads to a dead end. Now, when I googled it, nothing came up but book links (though, admittedly, I didn't go past page one).

If it's the study Jaime cited, I'm not sure I want to know why I should be unhappy because I don't make 40K or more!

jmcleod76 said...

I don't think there's any reason not to be happy making under 40K. If you have a roof over your head and food in the fridge and time for leisure, then you're doing pretty well. The main point of the study, I think, was that, beyond being able to pay your bills and have a decent place to live, etc., more material wealth doesn't tend to make people happier.

Julie H. Rose said...

Not about that study.

jmcleod76 said...

Looks neat. It made me remember that the government of Bhutan has a "Ministry of Happiness."

jmcleod76 said...

Apparently happiness has gotten more expensive since that study I mentioned. A Princeton study from late last year places the figure at $75,000. That leaves almost everyone screwed ;o)

Again, though, the people doing the study were clear that their point wasn't that people can't be happy below that number.

Julie H. Rose said...

If one lives in Princeton, 75K is barely making it.

Julie H. Rose said...

If one lives in Princeton, 75K is barely making it.