The State We Are In

Path HeaderThere is a conversation I have with myself often. Mostly I have it to encourage myself to focus and try harder. There is nothing wrong with dangling a carrot in front of the cart and moving along the horse, right?

So I tell myself that someday, when I have a big book contract I will truly be happy. Okay, maybe a medium book contract. When I can make enough money to just support myself on the things I want to write I’ll be happy. Or if I had a really amazing hawk that made every hunt a joy, that would make me supremely happy. Well, maybe a hawk wouldn’t really make everything better, but if I could find the perfect guy, a partner who could help me navigate this mess of a life, then I would totally happy. I should try harder, because if I just had this one thing I would be happy.

Except that no one thing can make you happier than you are now.

Yes, all of these things could add to my life and I would be lucky to have any one of them. I would be a fool not to accept these gifts graciously and be grateful. The one thing they won’t do, however, is make me happy.

Here is where I argue with myself. Okay, Rebecca, I hear you, but what if you won $3.6 million in the lottery. You’d be deliriously happy then, right? Yachts! Private islands! Crowned eagles! Sexy ranch hands!

Fine. I would be blissed out for a while. I’d buy. I’d have. I’d give. I’d fix. I would believe that amazing things actually do happen.

And then eventually, I’d get used to all the money. Alone in front of my desk, once again staring at a blank page, I’d be exactly who I was before I won the lottery. If I wasn’t happy and fulfilled before I won, I wouldn’t be then either.

I’ll concede to this one thing, though. According to a study that was done by Princeton, money can, in fact, buy you happiness — but only up to $75,000 a year. After that you’re on your own. While that level of income would definitely take a lot of stress off of my finances and help me sleep better at night, that amount of money wouldn’t mean a whole lot in the event of the sort of disaster that money cannot fix.

Unless of course, $75,000 could bring your dog back from the dead. But I’ve read Stephen King and I feel fairly confident that this sort of financial expenditure never goes well for anyone.

Maybe I’ve read too much philosophy, but much of it points to this same conclusion. In addition to the great philosopher Stephen King, there are others that warn that there is no quick fix to happiness. The Bhagavad Gita is rather explicit about the dangers of working for the reward. And the Tao Te Ching promises fulfillment only if you can embrace the fluid state of no-self.

So, if you can’t bring back the dead, and there is no self, and there are no real rewards, then there is only process and growth. There is only this moment and the happiness you are forging NOW. There is only the state we are in.

In other words, you have to find your own state of fulfillment and happiness before the reward, because rewards are meaningless. They are nothing more than street signs on a path. How meaningful is a street sign if you do nothing more than stand beneath it? Keep walking until the only thing that matters is the rhythm of your feet connecting to the earth, the quality of light illuminating your face, and the small beautiful things directly on your path. Keep walking until your realize you are happy. At least this is what I keep telling myself.

Who knows, maybe the next time I make a left turn on my own path, there will be a literary agent with great connections standing with a hawk on his glove and a winning lottery ticket in the other. I just hope he’s already content, because I’m not going to make him happy either. All the same, he would be a fool not walk alongside me, at least for a little while.

A Good Traveler