As I mentioned last week, my baby sister recently arrived home after many many many MANY months overseas, studying and teaching and traveling through Thailand and Cambodia and Myanmar.
She stayed with us for a week before heading to see my mum, and over the week she shared stories about her travels and the people she had met and experiences she had seen, and we spent a lot of time talking about what you truly need to be happy.
More and more I feel like western (North American?) culture is headed in the wrong direction, and has been for many years. We accumulate more and more stuff, always in hot pursuit of some new possession (and I include myself in this nameless ‘we’) and instead of catching happiness, we are finding ourselves increasingly stuck.
Heavy with debt and extra pounds and houses so full of all of our precious stuff that they make whole TV shows about people trying to dig their lives out from under its crushing weight.
I moved to this town 7 years ago. My time here has not always been easy, and although I don’t believe in fate, I do think that most life experiences have the opportunity to serve as teaching points if you are open enough to learn them.
I have struggled in the past with what my time here has taught me. At times I felt trapped, at times frustrated and angry with a failing business and a failing economy, resentful at the price we would have to pay for Adam’s wonderful entrepreneurial spirit.
But within the last two years I think I have reached a place where I have found some meaning in the life we have lived. I had a Karate Kid moment where all this time I thought I was waxing cars and sweeping floors when really I was learning karate.
(Disclaimer: I have never waxed a car. I do not now nor have I ever known the ancient art of kah-rah-tay)
We have been forced from necessity to live simply. Buy little. Spend less. Re-evaluate the idea of “need”. I feel ridiculous saying this because we aren’t poor by any stretch of the imagination, but neither are we rich, able to aim up, buy into the next echelon of luxury – bigger, newer, better.
And this strange dual reality – that by the standards of most people in the world we live like kings, yet when I compare (and I am often guilty of comparing) our life to those of people similar to our age it does look a little less….shiny.
And the more I learn and hear and experience, the more I am convinced that this is a good thing. An incredibly good thing, something to be learned and savoured and remembered often.
I think what makes people unhappy is constant pursuit of anything that can not be obtained and a perfect material life is one of those elusive entities that will always exist just out of grasp, a new model waiting to come out right after you buy yours. A new version, colour, year. And if you are always chasing that, always trying to grab and own and possess that slippery ideal you can never get off the treadmill, you can never quit the race. Because if you’re not happy now, how will you ever be happy with less than you have now?
And I need to remember that way of thinking, and memorize the signs like a fatal illness, and imprint the symptoms on my brain like a map. At some point I want to say enough, I want to stop running. I want to sit and sip cold water and not plan to renovate or move or upgrade. I just want to actually live my fucking life instead of constantly planning for a better one.
That, for better or worse, is what I’ve learned here. I don’t need much to make me happy, and what I do need can’t be bought.
Ironically, sometimes the pithiest cliches hold the most truth.