We hear these statements all the time: “When I have three years under my belt, then I will finally feel secure”; “When I can afford those new shoes, then I will finally be able to start my work out routine”; “When we are finally able to pay off our debts, then we can have a romantic vacation and rekindle our relationship”.
In our culture, we have established a variety of ceremonies and mile markers that we can look forward to–to conclude that our ‘wait’ is over, and that we have successfully met the end, and accomplished the task. When we graduate high school or college, we get a diploma that says we have met the end of the program, and that we have finished with the requirements. When we get married, we throw a wedding to signify that we have ended our single-hood, and that we have (supposedly) reached a level of maturity where we can now make adult decisions. When we retire from our job, we indicate that we have completed ‘working’ (and survived everything that came long with that), and we can neatly package up that stage of our life, and say we are now headed to something new.
We create starting and ending points in our daily lives. We start work at 8 AM, and end work at 5 PM. We start our work out class at 5:15 PM and end our work out class at 6:15 PM. We start our T.V. show at 7 PM and end our T.V. show at 8 PM. We (hope to) fall asleep at 9 PM, wake up at 6 AM, and start and begin our days all over again.
Maybe this need to have beginnings and endings is a product of our human nature–we need to set intervals and stopping points for ourselves so that the length of our lives–all of the minutes, the responsibilities, the expectations, the things we have to do, want to do, dream to do–do not seem quite so overwhelming.
But, what happens when there are not built in time intervals, parties and celebrations to throw, finalized dates scheduled ahead of time for us? How do we know when we have reached ‘the stopping point’? And, how do we prevent ourselves from falling into greed–to always wanting more, to always seeking more, to always expecting more?
It’s easy to fall into these patterns of ‘more’ when we do not have starting and stopping points. We hear about this syndrome with celebrities all the time–initially, their fame began with a little YouTube video, which then lead to a spot on a talk show, which then lead to another interview, which then lead to a book publisher, which then lead to a behemoth amount of social media followers, which then lead to a sponsorship with HelloFresh and Fab-Letics active wear and a commercial about paper towels–which then lead to wanting more money, more glory, more fame, and ultimately, destructive life choices (and, because there likely was no prescribed stopping point–“When I reach this amount of fame, when I make this amount of money, when I have this amount of social media followers, I’ll call myself, I’ll deem myself famous, I’ll throw a little party, and then I’ll dip out of it all”).
And for those of us who haven’t quite made ‘famous’ status, but still look forward to equally as important milestones in life, how do we decide when that waiting period is over, and when we can say we have reached a stopping point? Inevitably, for the more middle class person, here is how it happens: I say, “I will be happy ONCE I lose 10 pounds”. Then, I go on a diet, I start exercising more, stop sitting around so much and cut ice cream out of my diet, and when that 10 pounds comes and goes, and I’m now at 12 pounds, I still tell myself I’m in this “waiting period”; I tell myself I will only be happy, or only feel successful, or only feel secure WHEN this certain event occurs, but what happens when that event does occur and there is no big celebration or Time Hop notification to remind me of hitting my benchmark?
I love Mark Manson’s theory about American happiness (or rather, why we are unhappy). He basically says that happiness will never be found when we are constantly seeking something else–more money, a better job, a nicer car, a better house, more well behaved kids–because ultimately, in seeking something else, we are telling ourselves that we are currently lacking, and lacking in itself is a negative experience, and therefore detracts away from our happiness. According to Manson, we tell ourselves, “WHEN I get my debt paid off, then I will be happy”…..”WHEN my boyfriend proposes, THEN our relationship will be better”….”WHEN Tokyo Joes opens near my house, THEN I will stop eating unhealthy and feel better about myself”—we say that WHEN these things happen, THEN we will decide that we have reached that Final Destination (whatever it was) and that our waiting period was ‘over’, but if we don’t have a big celebration or fancy party, how can we adequately and effectively say that we are at the end, and that we have, once and for all, reached happiness?
(I actually have no final wisdom for you to share in this topic because I haven’t quite come to that conclusion yet myself. But, WHEN I do, then…..)