Many of us are miserable. Exhausted, unsatisfied, longing and unhealthy. A quick walk through your local Target 2 days before Christmas is pretty much all the proof you need of this. Haunted faraway looks, frenzied actions, stress-pallored and with an almost robotic demeanor. Even the Santa with the Kettle outside had one hand on the cell while ringing the bell.
We’re no longer where we are, but always somewhere else.
Ho, ho…no, this is not my holiday message. But it does seem to be the unfortunate truth of our supposedly gilded – or maybe that’s just veneered – age.
Maybe we’ve lost that in the age where value and worth are solely determined by quantifiable and commercial factors, but maybe, just maybe, we can push back and be reminded that there is another way. Maybe that’s why I’m blogging again, at least in part – to remind us that we are all so much more more than this, more than just consumption machines playing our role in the economy. And that maybe by yearning for less, perhaps we will find ourselves and that quicksilver of happiness that we continually seek by pursuing the more.
I’m beginning to suspect that we ourselves are quite enough, and less is a worthy pursuit. As a brand communications strategist, I realize that is marketing blasphemy. But because I take a long term view of everything, I also do not care.
“Hey,I just want to be Happy Forever. That’s why I read this far…and what’s this Rain business?”
I learned a long time ago that everything I need to learn my kids already know. Now I realize that maybe what I need to really do is unlearn.
Here’s an example: I was sitting outside on my deck the other morning doing my usual bit of journaling to see what was in my head. It was warmish and greyish and niceish – the day, not my head – and not too cold for December.
My youngest daughter, Gabriella, was running and jumping. She’s always running and jumping. In fact, for the past 11 years, that’s pretty much been what she does. Sometimes on a horse, but no horse, no worries. She gets bored in front of screens.
I’m so grateful for that.
Anyway, there I was, trying to figure out my life I suppose or appreciate it more. Sketching away, jotting down ideas, doing some freeflow, Getting things on paper is how I make sense of things, so I’m humming along and hearing Gab’s footfalls and at one point I happen to glance up and see some clouds rolling in.
Jump Jump. Over to my left. Jump Jump.
“Hey,” I call over to her, “Supposed to Rain today?”
And. just as I say it, I pull away from the moment, no longer see anything of the wonder right in front of me as my head hits turbo:
She’s going to a friend’s house today. Rain. If I knew about rain, would she have to change her outfit? What would they do? Should I approach the day differently? Will they be inside? Will That shorten the day? Will I have to pick her up earlier than I’d planned? How will that affect my day? Will My schedule change? Will My wife pick her up after work? How much rain will we get? Will That gutter that was a problem during the last storm hold? Is the basement going to leak again? Did I leave my guitars near the wall down there where it leaked last time…
“I dunno” she chirped with a happy shrug. She didn’t lose pace or break stride. She said nothing more. She didn’t care one bit, because it didn’t matter one bit. Not to her.
Jump jump. Run Run. Breathe breathe. Smile Smile.
It didn’t matter at all. Not one bit.
I sat there and let the powerful simplicity of that moment sink in. “Girl’s a genius”, I thought and told her as much. She looked at me, made a goofy face. And kept running and jumping and playing.
I watched her, always taking it as it comes. Light as a feather. Happy and untethered.
I was envious. Her instinctive simplicity is genius; my learned complexity is stupid.
Only one of us is truly happy, alive and engaged most of the time.
Guess which one.
We live in an attention economy. Not a consumer economy – that’s become secondary – an attention economy, first and foremost. And beyond the economy, we live an attention existence. Our friends are not in the room, not often, but instead on a screen. It requires attention to seek them out. Attention to decide how to present ourselves before we see them. Attention to determine in advance every single moment of every single day just how to present ourselves to a world that really is not a world at all, at least not in the sense of that which the fabric of actual reality is made. Attention to respond to the constant and smothering stream of pokes and prods and information that is constantly hurled at us.
There is no such thing as multitasking, only micro-tasking. We can only put our effort in one place at one time. Only be in one place at one time. And what we’re thinking about – where our attention is invested – is where we are. And someone is always pulling at your attention. Think about it: we are constantly being baited to think about certain things. This is how money is made – at the expense of our attention and self. And money has somehow been insidiously placed at top of the altar of all that is deemed important and worthy of pursuit.
Yes, I’m a marketing blasphemist. Or an unapologetic humanist. I’m okay with either.
When was the last time you carved out even 5 minutes of silence? No phone, no internet. Alone with your thoughts?
Five minutes. Stop now and try it and realize just how long five minutes is when you are only focusing on them. It’s a comparable eternity. Comparable to what? Spend five minutes on YouTube, and I’ll see you in an hour when you get back.
My point is this: when faced with a question about something that may or may not happen, but which will demand your attention, take my daughter’s advice. Shrug and keep doing whatever you were doing. You’ll find that whatever seemed so important was not – not to you anyway. And that your world will not only not end, but will actually be richer and more interesting. Just be here. And Now. Not There, or then – even if it’s only in your head.
Remember, this is a process of mindfully choosing Less. Of ironically, being aware and choosing not to engage. Maybe it’s sort of like meditating: see the ‘must must must’ but choose to let it go. Over time, this will become not an exercise, but simply the way you are. This is not a quick fix, but a gradual one. This is the difference between taking on a crazy unsustainable diet or gradually changing your eating habits toward something healthier over the long term.
Only one lasts over time and makes you healthy inside AND out.
Disconnect. Start a silent rebellion against the perceived inevitability of a questionable future. Shrug and be happy.
You owe the world nothing except the best version of you — which is also what you owe yourself.
And this is a good way to start.
My 2 Cents – and a Happy New Year to All.