Alternate Title – Someone Would Really Enjoy My Life – Why Can’t it Be Me?
Let me start by telling you about two women I know.
She is nearly 40 and she’s fat. My friend suffers from plantar fasciitis and the doctor says it would improve if she would lose weight but she just doesn’t have the discipline to make it happen. She just can’t stop eating fattening foods.
Her husband works a lot, even when he’s at home. They’ve had some serious struggles in their marriage. This woman has three kids, all with busy schedules and most of the work of getting them where they need to be, taking care of the home, and other domestic duties falls to her. She doesn’t live anywhere near family so they aren’t able to help her or offer her support.
She lives in a modest home with an 80s kitchen and a backyard fence that’s falling down around her. However, she can’t afford to remodel or build a new fence so she has to deal with it.
My second friend is in her 30s. She’s beautiful and healthy except for minor aches and pains. She loves to work out and does so frequently. She’s competed in triathlons and enjoys challenging her body to do new things. She is an amazing cook and nourishes herself, her friends, and family with delicious food.
Her husband provides well for her family but also cares a great deal about work/life balance and spending time with family. He generally keeps his office hours to standard working hours and does the rest of his work from home so he can be around for dinner and to help out when he’s needed. He supported her through severe postpartum mental illness with grace and kindness, and when their marriage hit bumps in the road, he immediately agreed to attend counseling and address the issues. They are best friends and love spending time together.
She has three of the greatest children ever born, smart, healthy, and talented young people who truly care about being good people. Her wonderful and supportive extended family members are only a phone call away and she has a caring network of fun and compassionate local friends who never fail to provide her with love and joy.
This woman enjoys living in a beautiful home in the woods that stays cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Her home is filled with lovely treasures that remind her of the wonderful life she’s lived. There’s not always money to do every home project she wants because she chooses to spend it on travel and experiences with loved-ones.
Probably no surprise here, but both of these are descriptions of me.
Depending on the day, I choose one and I live it.
As I’ve been doing some soul-searching lately, I’ve been trying to figure out what it would take to make me truly happy most of the time. I’m not talking about constant giddiness. I’m talking about general peace and contentment 95% of my waking hours.
I’ve pondered a few thoughts.
1. There are many people who would be delighted to have my life. Why can’t I be one of them?
2. I have everything I need to be truly happy.
3. The world we live in encourages us to delight in misery.
4. The world needs to zip it.
So, let’s talk about number 1.
There are many people who would be delighted to have my life. Why can’t I be one of them?
When looked at objectively, I have a pretty great life. I live in a free country. I am educated and work the hours I choose as a writer. When life gets busy, I don’t need to worry about making money because I have a husband who can support our family financially. This frees me up to support our family physically and emotionally. We don’t have any real stress about finances. I am healthy. My whole family is healthy. I like my kids and enjoy being with them. My parents and siblings and Dan’s parents and siblings are all living and all wonderful. I live in a safe and beautiful community with great schools and fun activities. I’m good at stuff. I’m never bored.
So, if my life’s so darn awesome, how do I find so many things to complain about?
That teacher was rude to my kid. My daughter’s friends are causing drama. The world is scary. The person I voted for didn’t win the election. My husband was snoring last night. I never have enough time to do all the things I want to do. My foot hurts. This carpet is hideous. I’m sick of my clothes. And on and on.
By noticing and dwelling on every little thing that bothers me, I’m choosing to take a beautiful life and not enjoy it the way it deserves to be enjoyed. If I can’t enjoy this life I’ve been given, who can? And why do I do this?
I think part of it comes down to a thing I call the “Pioneer Complex”.
I’m Mormon and our early history includes countless stories of pioneers who were driven from their homes, persecuted, killed, and deprived of basic necessities. These faithful people believed they were doing God’s will and traveled thousands of miles on foot to find a place where they could worship freely. We are grateful for their sacrifices. We honor them. And we talk about them. A lot.
Sometimes I think we get in the mindset that if we’re not suffering, we’re not acceptable to God. If our lives don’t suck enough, we’re phoning it in. And I’m not just talking about members of my church. I feel like many of my friends of all faiths (or none at all) get into this mindset. If we’re not struggling or complaining, then we’re not really alive, not trying hard enough. Pioneer Complex.
It’s like bragging about how sore you are after a workout.
If you can lift your toothbrush the next day without agony, you obviously didn’t push yourself at the gym. So, we overload our schedules and we look for and emphasize the hardships in our lives. Because they make us feel hardcore or worthwhile or valid.
So many of the conversations I have with my friends revolve around how busy we all are, how much drama we’re experiencing, what health problem we’re facing. While it’s therapeutic to share our legitimate struggles with caring friends, I feel complaining has become a competitive sport. We need to one-up each other.
“Oh, you think that’s bad? Wait until you hear how crazy busy my day was.”
The truth is, so much of this suffering is by choice.
We choose what to add to our schedules. We choose what drama to focus on.
I recently had this conversation with a friend.
Friend – “Oh gosh. I have so much freelance work. It’s killing me.”
Me – “Oh no. Do you hate writing? Maybe you should change jobs.”
Friend – “No. I love it. Writing is my passion.”
Me – “Okay. Is the time commitment too much? Do you need to cut back your hours?”
Friend – “No. I’m working exactly the number of hours I want. I have the time to do it. It’s just so much.”
Okay…. So, you’re really in demand. That has to feel good. You’re working as a freelance writer because you chose that profession. If you hate it, think about changing careers. If your current load is too much, cut back. But if you love it and it’s what you chose to do, why are you sighing and talking about it like it’s your greatest trial in life?
Because we are social complainers.
If we’re complaining, it means that what we’re doing is hard. If what we’re doing is hard, then we must be strong and capable to accomplish it. Complaining makes us feel important. Pioneer Complex.
My ancestors did super hard things. Therefore, I revere them. If I do super hard things, I will be worthy of love and respect. Therefore, I must make my life as hard as possible or at least not let myself enjoy it fully because if I’m enjoying my life fully, I’m obviously not doing super hard things. Ergo, I am a loser.
The truth is, I have everything I need to be truly happy.
All the elements are there. And I want to be happy. So, I’m gonna be.
When I’m standing at back-to-school night and everyone is sighing and eye-rolling about the trauma of back-to-school shopping, I want to smile and nod and think, “I’m so grateful I have money to buy the supplies my kids need and that I live in a country where we have such great access to quality goods.”
When the news stations are playing terrorism clips or disaster coverage over and over again, I want to pray for the people and donate money and take whatever reasonable steps I can to assist. And then I want to be grateful that my family is safe and dry.
Rather than vicariously living Hurricane Harvey 24-hours per day from my safe warm house in Seattle, I’m going to enjoy living in my safe warm house in Seattle. And I’m going to help people who aren’t so lucky.
We will all experience our own share of real trauma in our lives. And we will deal with it and ask our friends for help and commiseration. But when the weather is calm, and our lives are good, we should enjoy them.
I offer you a couple challenges.
1. Write two descriptions of your life like I did at the beginning of this post and choose which one you’d rather focus on.
2. Next time you are in a conversation where friends are complaining about their lives, listen but don’t one-up or add to the drama. If a true complaint about your own situation comes to mind, go home and ponder what you can do to change your situation.
The pioneers didn’t walk across the country, losing family members along the way, so they could look cool to future generations or feel good about themselves. They did it because they had to. And when times were good, they enjoyed their lives and played the fiddle or something.
Take a look at your life.
Is it good right now? Truly? Then go play the fiddle. Your trek will come. And when it does, you can deal with it. Don’t invent one for yourself now just so you can fit in with the cool pioneers. Life is too short to put on a frostbite-starvation face when it’s actually square-dancing time.