Here’s how life goes:
Get good grades, get into a good school, pick a good major, get good grades again, get an offer, bust our butts, buy a car, find someone suitable, marry them, buy a home together, have a baby or two, keep busting our butts, get promoted, take a vacation or two, get promoted again, buy a nicer car, maybe a bigger home, put the babies through college, make the final mortgage payment, retire.
And at each step along the way, we’re promised that the next one will be better. Having a job is better than being in school, getting promoted to the next job will be better than the one we have, retirement will be better than any of the jobs. Marriage is better than dating, having kids is better than being DINK’s.
But too many people, in the wake of everything going on around us both sociologically and economically, are now pausing, looking around, and realizing: we’re not happy. And with that realization comes the question: why not?
Because we never took the time to evaluate what would make us happy. Too many of us fret over what we “should” be doing – I should buy a home, I should get married before 30 – and not enough time evaluating who we are, fundamentally. You want to know why your cubicle job and your hour-long commute bums you out? Because none of us were meant for that, psychologically. The only reason it’s the norm is because not enough of us have rejected it. And that home with the white picket fence in the suburbs? Truth be told, our psyches weren’t really meant for that either.
Human beings are intensely social creatures, and base much of our understanding of the world and ourselves from interactions with others – even reading is a social interaction, given that another human being put pen to paper for you. When we tuck ourselves away in our cubicles and our houses like we’re expected to, we deny ourselves the full richness of that basic need. And yet we all continue to play along, because we assume that it’s the only way to go about it.
What if we stopped playing? What if we evaluated ourselves as individuals – with unique philosophies and preferences and metrics for happiness – rather than regard ourselves as one of millions. We, as individuals, are not a dime a dozen, and would benefit immensely from not rendering ourselves that status by striving so hard to be a part of “the norm.”
What if we evaluated whether it would make us happier to a.) live in a 2,000 sq. ft. home or b.) travel internationally every year? (For some of us, the answer is genuinely the former, and that’s okay.) What if we evaluated whether raising children would really make us happier – or even whether we want to dedicate the full time it takes to do it well? What if we asked ourselves if we’re buying the nice car or designer bag for ourselves or for some other reason?
And what if we got disenchanted with those things that simply don’t jive with what makes us happy? What if we instead spent our short lives pursuing things that do?