A couple of years ago a friend and I were in an antique shop. She collects miniature tea sets, and they had a couple; one in particular that she really liked. I suggested she should buy it, and she said, no, it’s not good to get everything you want.
I think of that statement quite often. It’s one of two things in my life that someone said to me that changed the way I thought about something instantly. It’s not good to get everything you want. Wow. I came across a quote by Bertrand Russell this week, in which he claimed pretty much the same thing: “To be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness.”
I think it`s absolutely true about stuff. It is human nature to become spoiled by instant material gratification. I think much of what is wrong with American capitalist culture stems from consumerism, and the ease with which those with money can get stuff. We lack appreciation for the way things are made, and for the people who made them. I definitely see it in young people in my small, generally quite well-off community, and the way they take for granted easy access to instant communication, computers, cars, clothes, etc. If material needs are met too easily, human beings tend to become bored and unappreciative of the stuff they have; always wanting more, more, more.
What about less touchable things, like how you’d like something to play out, or how you’d like someone to treat you? Those kinds of expectations trip me up all the time. I find my mind wandering off into the future, conjuring up scenarios about an event or situation. How I think it’ll all go and how wonderful (or not) I expect it to be. Or I think I know how someone will react to something, or what they’ll do, or even who they are.
It’s silly, really, that I would still be allowing myself to indulge in these little fantasies. Certainly if life has taught me anything, it’s been that I can expect nothing. Nothing ever turns out the way I think it will (for better or worse). People are hardly ever who I think they are (for better or worse). In fact, the more I expect a certain outcome or action, the less likely it is to be anything even remotely resembling what I was expecting or hoping for.
All situations teach us. What we learn is sometimes dubious, but we learn, nonetheless. Have I been made stronger by my unmet expectations, or do they debilitate me? I think the answer is: both. I have been forced to look within myself for what I need to keep going, and that’s a good thing. I can take care of myself, and I’ve learned to be a person I can count on. Definitely good.
And sometimes I am surprised. Several wonderfully surprising things happened in the last few days; things I wasn’t expecting, or even imagining. Four people went out their way to do nice things for me. It made up for the myriad ways my expectations fell short, and then some.
So, an indispensable part of happiness? Yes, I think so. I aspire to live frugally on surprise. Expect nothing. I think ultimately all I can hope for is keep striving to be the person I need. Situations change, people change. Nothing in this life is static. I can count on nothing but my own ability to adapt, so that had better keep getting stronger. Counting on anything external – including other people – for one’s own well-being is certain disappointment.
I’d rather be surprised! It’s not easy to let go of those expectations. It requires staying in the moment – being fully with what’s happening now – with no thought of what’s past or expectation of the future. No small thing. It’s an arduous journey, but worth the effort.
Note to self: Go slow. Take snacks. Rest when necessary. Pay attention. Welcome everything.
We’ll get there sooner or later. All is well.