Suggested Music: What You Do, Imperial Teen Suggested Drink: Juice cleanse (apple, grapes, carrot, lemon, …) after the holiday excess
January is a logical month to take stock of how we are doing. A tattered year is behind us and a sparkly clean 12 months ahead. But how does one determine the metrics for “doing well?” Health, of course, is at the top of the list, but we have only partial control over that. Of those elements we control entirely how about the state of our:
Other, what am I missing?
Are any elements more fundamental to our state of circumstance than what we are doing, where we are living, and whom we are loving? Do any of the ingredients for your bliss pie constitute the recipe base more than these? I would argue that the rest are just whip cream and sprinkles really, but on their own provide little nourishment.
So, as we enter the first week of the first month of the new year, take a moment to ask:
Are you happy with what you do? Does it offer full engagement and moments of flow? Do you lose track of time when deeply immersed in this activity? Does it draw on your natural strengths and leave you with a rich sense of accomplishment and worth? Are you at your best when doing this? Does a voice in your head say “I was born for this role” when up to your elbows in it? Are you working harder at it than anyone you know, happily? Will it be mentioned in your eulogy?
I worked for years doing incredible jobs that were a terrible fit. They were coveted by many and attained by few, offered status and a good income, left me coddled and pampered, and I almost believed that I was what my title implied. Do I regret pursuing these positions? Not at all, because my priorities at the time were different. They revolved around acquiring wealth and establishing security to underpin a marriage and growing family. The objective was firstly a solid career, not personal fulfillment. But priorities change, particular at midlife, when one realizes suddenly that we have only this life and it can be unexpectedly short. Of the questions in the former paragraph very few would have been answered “yes” with these roles. At some point, certainly on the downward slope of the bell curve of life and perhaps sooner, don’t we want those answers to be “hell yes”? Are you happy with what you do?
Are you happy with where you live? If you could stick a pin in the world map (think sixth grade geography class), would you target a city centre, outer burb, small town, or country home? Do you prefer the arctic snow to the Polynesian sun? Is it a temperate breeze or the arid heat that makes you feel at home? Do you need to live at the centre of the family hive, or is an outpost far from the nest more suitable? Some of us prefer modern settings with high rises of steel and glass towering over wide avenues while others revel in the narrow alleys of old historic villages. Which do you prefer? Are you a renter, owner, squatter in a house, flat, cabin, trailer?
The reality is, everything but our personal interests plays a major role in where we live; work and family in that order. We go where there is work. It does not come to us, unfortunately. We also respect the needs of our families, both the birth and acquired varieties. Our parents need support as they get older, and we dearly need their help with the kids. But at some point around midlife the parents pass on and the children move on. We start to reconsider our pursuits of interest. At this time we are less tethered to a geographic pin point on that map.
Many of us will decide that there is no place better than the home we know, comfortable and close to those we love. This is understandable given the upheaval that accompanies a major move. Still, immersion into new environs can be incredibly liberating and necessary for reinvention. Why be the same person at 60 that you were at 30; it is not an obligation. Try stepping into a new skin for just 1 weekend and you may be hooked. Is it worth asking, then, are you happy with where you live?
Are you happy with whom you love? I am exceptionally unqualified to counsel on the world of amour (my ex would happily back me up on that claim), but love is a most enjoyable pursuit at which to work harder. It lies at the heart of our hearts and true happiness, and certainly worthy of assessment. When you see your partner’s name on the incoming call screen, does it make you smile? When he is home sick, do you want to inquire, to prepare that homemade chicken soup, or do you mostly feel obligated? Is your intimacy still rich and imaginative, or are you telling yourselves that sex no longer matters. While the cause/effect of the connection between touch and health remains a mystery, it is well documented that babies and animals deprived of physical touch are comparatively unhealthy and develop poorly. (By the way, frequent orgasms can increase life expectancy by 3-8 years, according to the RealAge book!)
The median age for marriage in the US is 26 for women, 28 for men (add 2-3 years for most western European countries). Many of us are now twice that age and have tripled the years since beginning to mature emotionally. That we would change, in ways both dramatic and unexpected, is normal and healthy. Otherwise, there has been no growth, no beautiful journey in this one life to live. Our partners are shifting course too, on independent tangents of their own design. It is beautiful to grow together, to complement and support the other while exploring ourselves. But it is tragic to force the match, to tag along begrudgingly, or worse repress our partner’s curiosity and potential.
We need to accept change and even insolvency in our partnerships, as long as the union is respected and all avenues exhausted for finding solutions. Children complicate things, but the lessons taught by example are the most immediate and effective. Is this a good lesson: mom and dad fight like crazy and never get along, but at least our miserable family life with its many sparks and firestorms is preserved. Is this a better lesson: mom and dad couldn’t get along, did everything possible to work it out (yep, they acted like real grownups for a change), admitted they had both changed, and now there is peace in the valley. So, are you happy with whom you love?
The whats, wheres, and whoms of our lives are interconnected, and changes to one has impact on the others. The fun is in finding the optimum balance, the compromise among them that maximizes happiness and charges our optimism. If we do what we love, live where we belong, and have a partner deserved of our best chicken soup, then anything seems possible, any challenge feels manageable. Bliss!
Bill Magill Aix-en-Provence