Y’all remember middle school? Maybe you’ve tried to forget but I know you remember those braids your mamma finally let you get. You remember when she made you take them out when you got that C on your report card too. Or that time your friend dared you to walk in the men’s bathroom and because you take dares very seriously, you did it only to find Mr. Track Coach at the first urinal. Your mom was involved in that one too. Oh the memories. Middle school was very much about who likes you, keeping up in pre-algebra, roasting folks in the cafeteria, and avoiding a roast in the cafeteria. This was especially true when you came back from Christmas break. Your top priority was to kill ‘em with the new outfit you got. You couldn’t focus on the book review you were supposed to have worked on or that science project on the horizon. It was all about the stunt. It was so important, in fact, that you spent the month leading up to Christmas educating your entire family on what exactly you needed to get to either maintain your level of cool or elevate it. It had to be a new gaming system, clothes, or a phone in your room. These were the days of landlines, people, and the most stuntin-ness people got their own line. The 90’s were bananas.
Every other year or so you actually got something that took your cool level up a notch. I remember my cousin left a pair of her shoes at our house and told me I could keep them. It was the ultimate come up. They were a pair of retro Nikes in black with blue shoestrings. I got so many compliments just like I knew I would. To be honest, they were a little small but I wore them until my big toes went numb. They were the best. They made me happy for a good long while. Eventually though, their luster wore off and I needed my next come up. The shoes didn’t change my life for more than a few moments. I still had to turn in that book report. I had to figure out how not to get a C on my science project. I had to avoid being roasted in the cafeteria. My life was a collection of great highs, great lows, and mild content in between.
What I didn’t know then and what truthfully only fully cemented in my head about a month ago is that stuff doesn’t bring sustainable happiness. Status doesn’t either. I’m not telling you anything you haven’t heard. Nothing earth shattering here. We all know material things won’t bring us sustainable happiness but none of us know it. We’ve heard it and intellectually understand the concept but we haven’t fully applied it to our lives. Sometimes I think that if I can only get that one thing or get to be friends with that one person, my life would change. The truth of the matter is that even when I’ve gotten a new job, new house or an invite to an exclusive event or meeting, my life didn’t get magical. Dishes still had to get washed. Bills still had to be paid. The broken door handle still had to be fixed (somebody tell my husband to read this part).
Now don’t get me wrong. There are absolutely magical moments in life and I’ve accumulated enough of them to make me feel happy. I have enough money to cover my essentials, and I won’t negate the significance of that on the happiness spectrum. After a certain point though, money and status don’t inch the dial any closer to happiness on the spectrum and that’s when you have to figure out what provides you lasting happiness.
Note: I’m calling this feeling “happiness” but maybe it’s contentment, joy, or peace. I’m not here to quibble over adjectives but know that I’m talking about an emotion of supreme satisfaction.
I’ve been thinking about this lately because I’ve been working more intently on pursuing my dreams this year. I see images of myself as an accomplished author and a person who gets called on to talk about things I care about. For me, that is the highest aspiration I have for myself (never told that to anyone). I like to picture it and imagine myself living a life like that. In my head, it is a little magical. But then I remember when I wished for the things I have now. I got them and I still felt unsatisfied. I still felt a yearning for more. The dishes did not wash themselves and I did not sidestep bouts of deep sadness and lack of interest. So, what makes me think things will be different if I reached the highest level of success that I can imagine for myself?
What if I don’t love my life when I have everything I ever wanted? That’s a scary thought. It’s heavy!!! Do you feel that thing?
So now I’m figuring that out for myself. How can I be happy with everything or nothing or a space in between? What will it take for me? What needs to be at play? A healthy family, intimate friendships, purposeful work? Maybe. But once again, I don’t have life figured out. I’m making it up as I go. I would love some help thinking through this. What brings you supreme satisfaction?