When you compare them side by side, actual happiness looks like total crap next to the things we do, say and buy to compensate for happiness.
You hear it all the time from zen transcendentalists: happiness comes from within. To achieve true happiness, shed want and be fulfilled with what you have and what you are. Blah blah blah, all that shit.
A happy, stable life is boring compared to an unstable life filled with downs, where you buy your lifts and ups. "If only I had money, I wouldn't have to work this job" springs immediately to mind. What would you do with that money? Personally, I'd buy the exact same shit I buy now to compensate for being miserable all the time, just more of it and more often. And I know this, because I've done this my. Entire. Life.
Something I'm learning now: This does not work.
This year, I lost my wife, my company, my house and two of my pets. I've had to foster some other pets because I want them to have a happy life, and they would be miserable in my new location. It's been a huge reboot, and it's only August. So I have been traveling and soul searching, crashing on friends' couches and living out of a suitcase with my dog and my truck. And I've realized: I don't miss ANY of my stuff.
I don't miss my books, I have digital versions of the ones I'd re-read anyway. I don't miss my toys and figures, they just sit on a shelf. I don't miss my comics. I don't miss my furniture. I don't miss video games. I don't miss TV. I don't miss any of it at all whatsoever.
I have spent so much money on collectables and artifacts from a design firm, The Designer's Republic. I fell in love with them early on (you can read all about how stealing a Playstation led me to them and my career here). Every time I'd find anything from or by them, I'd buy it. I have a pretty extensive TDR collection. And every time I buy something by them, it reminded me of a time was hungry for a skill and a life I don't have anymore.
I collect it to feel that surge I felt when I found them, thinking it's going to energize this piece of me and suddenly I'll be hungry again. I'll go back to design and art and find my heart there and really learn the skills I've always wished I had. And it's just not like that. I haven't been a true designer in years. I haven't been a true software developer for years before that. I keep those skills handy cause they pay, and when I hit rough times, I go into those jobs and make money and lose sight of what actually made me happy all day long, because I could just buy things to be happy and feel relevant.
Same with Masterpiece Transformers, rare comic books, figurines, original art, steel Starbucks cards and stuff. All of it: trophies of a life I wish I'd led. Souvenirs of a trip I always meant to take. But there I go when I get down and frustrated about my career or life, buying trinkets that prove how great a designer or developer or producer or "real geek" or artist or whatever I am supposed to be. I have to be, right? After all, I know who The Designers Republic is. I have original art from Michael Golden. I own a Dali. I have shirts from my stint with Yahoo in the 90's. Look at all the treasures I've won.
A joke I made to a friend once hit me square in the face when I repeated it just the other day. I have a "Certificate of Excellence" issued to me, by me, hanging on my office wall. The joke is that the day I realized I could just buy one from Target, I quit trying so hard. It only now dawned on me that buying art supplies didn't make me as good an artist as I wish I was, and buying designer posters didn't make me any better a designer.
I've been buying my happiness all this time. I've lived a life where I was married to someone I loved, and my life revolved around the nest we built. I couldn't stray too far from it, because that was "home" -- so I made home as comfortable and modern and fun as possible. And it keeps falling apart, bit by bit.
The river keeps running. You can swim against the current all you want, but it's going to win. So instead of fighting the current on this river, I'm just going to ride it and see where it takes me. And ever since I made this decision, I've been rested, centered and at peace.
It feels right. Clear house and shed my old skin. Quit being who I think I should be, as a pro and as a person, and just settle into the life I'm actually liking. Lightweight. Simple. Direct.
While writing has been a part of my life for most of my days, I've never been a full-time writer. Articles and books make me a bit of nice side money, but I've never actually taken it seriously -- not the way authors do. I want to write for a living for the first time in my life. I want to tour on my writing. THAT makes me happy. That makes me feel whole. That, and talking about Akira. The only two things that have been with me my entire life that haven't shifted or changed.
I can tell you with all honesty, the last 17 days have been some of the clearest and functional of my recent life. I am busted all the way down to the very basics. I have five goals a day, and I achieve them without fail: I write a note to myself, I write on my blog, I eat clean (paleo), I workout at least once a day, and I am sober. And it's been really amazing.
It has hurt. I won't lie. I've had to face some very real pain that has been waiting on me to stop running from it. I have some (probably a lot) more waiting. And that's ok, because it's real. Hiding and distraction and faking and brave faces have gotten old. I am loving real right now.
Despite the pain, I'm getting happy. I'm writing every day. It's all I've ever wanted to do in life. And while living with a roommate again and owning exactly three pieces of furniture and selling off all my collectables and crap has been a stark contrast to the life I used to have, I feel so much lighter and freer. Living sparsely kinda sucks in comparison to the big house full of awesome stuff and all the comforts and trappings of successful American life... From the outside. From the inside, however, I know now that I vastly prefer being happy to looking happy.
I'm getting there.
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