I’m typing this with a sated baby in the crook of my arm, with a new-found respect for true multi-tasking. I have been thinking a lot lately about contentedness, about how I have never been happier, and today’s birthday feels like it’s just added more pleasure to the pile. In fact every day has felt like that recently. It’s a little scary – feeling that what goes up must come down – but it also seems that my recent contentedness is of a particular kind, a stable kind, perhaps a result of having reached a mature and ripe old age with less tolerance for extremes. What I am hoping is that Contentedness (unlike Happiness) is even-keeled, and if a fall is around the corner, perhaps it will be from less a height, or maybe I am at least better prepared to deal with it.
Our newborn, Amelia, is pretty mellow. The midwife says Mark and I are mellow people so it’s no big surprise, and she might likely stay that way (fingers crossed). I have not always been as easygoing as I feel now though (surprise surprise), and turning 30 makes me reflect on that fact. It is partly a product of evened out hormones no doubt, but also of having gone through some major life shit that has taught me major life lessons, namely that so much of what we worry about is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Living abroad away from family, having to set up a new life with new friends here in Canada, making difficult but sensible compromises in my relationship, exploring what I wanted to do for work, reaching for lifelong dreams, getting to know my dad again and dealing with his death – all have been a part of my journey toward contentedness.
A friend recently lost his father too, but in a brutal and senseless killing . It is a complete tragedy, and my friend has struggled to make sense of it. Here’s a part of what he wrote in response to his grief, a heartfelt plea for people to try to find what does matter in life.
“Ninety-nine percent of what’s on your mind and happening in your life doesn’t fucking matter. Things on my mind in the 24 hours prior to my father’s senseless killing included: iPhone 5S colour choice, dissatisfaction with my relationship status, hoping I’ll be able to get 4 weeks off in Jan/Feb to go to Taiwan, does this new startup idea have legs, dad’s bruises from his vehicle accident (he was bruised, but otherwise perfectly fine), why my mom can’t just accept that I love smoking cigarettes, how will Suits season 3 end, how it’s possible that anyone has NOT watched Suits, the Eagles are DEFINITELY scooping the Superbowl come February, GSXr or CBR. None of it matters. All that matters is life itself existing, and sharing the mere existence of life with the people that give your life meaning.”
I’ll repeat that last bit because I like it so much.
All that matters is life itself existing, and sharing the mere existence of life with the people that give your life meaning.
I hate that it sometimes takes the horrid for us to understand and appreciate the good. But in the end, the good is there, and that’s what I think is worthy of our attention.
I remember when my older brother was graduating from high school his psychology teacher assigned a question for homework asking his students to reflect on where they would like to be in five years. My brother wrote something along the lines of wanting to be happy. I remember thinking that was sort of lame, and what were his goals and what did he really want to achieve in life? I did not see happiness as an achievement, but as something you were given. You either had it or you didn’t.
I see now that I was wrong. Happiness (or contentedness, which I prefer) does take work. You first have to recognize that happiness is a choice, and then you have to do the work to choose happiness, which means dropping bad or self-indulgent habits or being okay with whatever doesn’t make the cut. So, for example, not having enough time (for yourself, for your family, for rock-climbing) is making you unhappy? You choose more time by cutting out the extra hours at work or on freelance outside of work, accepting a slower career path or less money or whatever it is you think you get out of working all the time.
That’s a personal example. There are other kinds of trade-offs. Trade job security for a career that is riskier but more personally fulfilling. Trade a full-time career for a closer relationship with your kids or family. Trade the freedom of a car for freedom of conscience regarding your carbon footprint. Trade good booze-filled times for a healthier liver, or vice versa. Choices.
My choices have not all been perfect, but they are working for me. Compared to where I was at this time last year, I feel as if my wheels have found the ruts and things are going along so much more smoothly. I’m so content to have the partner I have, the job I have, the home I have, the city we live in, and the friends and admirable people in my life. I feel it’s such a rich and lucky life. (More thoughts on luck, later.)
There is nothing better than starting a new decade of life feeling this way. I am very very grateful for the people in my life that have helped bring all this joy inside what used to feel like a walled garden. Much love to you all. Thanks for never giving up on me. I hope I can repay this debt by any small measure, that I might somehow help others find their own contentedness.
Okay thirties. I think I’m ready for you.