Saturday, September 11, 2010

Me, Myself & I.

Towards the end of my hospitality career, I became aware of how much NZers appear to enjoy complaining.  I was serving some of the best food and wine in NZ and increasingly had to resist the urge to make my customers wear it.  Taxes, rates, immigrants, Maoris, Asians, all undesirable and apparently suitable dinner table conversation.  And in public at that.  In the end, I couldn't take it.  And I quit.

I grew up all around the world and most NZers have it pretty sweet as far as I am concerned.  Life has its ups and downs wherever you live but just living in this country protects most of us from many hardships that we can't really imagine enduring.  But we are so fucking ungrateful and we are always complaining.  We have become all about what the world owes us and who is trying to take it all away from us.  Our self-entitlement, our right to be happy has become of paramount importance and our gauging, of just how happy we are, constant.  Like weighing ourselves daily or watching the proverbial kettle boil.

The pursuit of happiness is certainly nothing new but the emphasis on it above all other things certainly is.  In the past, the emphasis was less on happiness and its definitions as it was on satisfaction and its relationship with how one handled one's responsibilities.  Women and men both had their roles and were both burdened and freed by them.  There wasn't a lot of wriggle room but there also wasn't a lot of uncertainty.  Your life was pretty much mapped out for you by the circumstances of your gender, race and class.  Our expectations of life were much lower then as were the expectations life had of us.  Our prescribed circumstances are no longer as restrictive as they were before; the boundaries slowly corroding away, putting the reins of our existence more in our hands than those of society.  The Man is still in charge, make no mistake, but he's no longer micro-managing as much.  More and more, we have choices.  We can opt in and opt out of more than ever before.  We witnessed the obligations that bound previous generations and we have no wish to be similarly trapped.

Quitting is more than just acceptable now; like debt, it is simply a part of modern life.  Quitting is a natural part of the process of finding ourselves.  And now that we can do it by remote control, it's not only easier but it's positively addictive.  We can commit to more things now because we know we are really only committing on a trial basis.  And the relief of texting or emailing that apology or excuse is made even more glorious by the simple fact that we don't have to disappoint in person.  It's practically worth starting something just to experience the delirious joy of getting out of it.

And it really seems so harmless, except the damage is three-fold: the ripples of disappointment that emanate from all our actions (or rather inaction); the corrosion of our ability to see anything thru; and the focus being on what we are running from rather than where we are headed.  I can't help but feel that this plays a large part in the delayed adolescence so many of us experience.  Our increasingly insular existence (strangely coinciding with, and for some of us perhaps enabled by, being more connected than ever before thru social networking technology) makes us so much more focused on our needs than we would have previously been allowed to.  Our conviction that we have the absolute right to be happy often appears to overrule the validity of other emotions that result from our actions.  Guilt and shame are like the modern day appendix or wisdom tooth.  They are what we experience as a result of our inadequacies but we no longer have any real use for them.  We know that it's not healthy to beat ourselves up too much over things we cannot undo so we encourage ourselves and others to all but skip that stage altogether.

Our selfishness is constantly validated by the media and advertising (who can really tell the difference anymore?) bombarding us with messages that we are worth it, that we should indulge ourselves, that we should stop living for other people, and that if we don't love ourselves...  But here's the rub: the unending focus on ourselves and how happy we are and what makes us happy is making us miserable.  Happiness is something you can only really experience if you are truly in the moment; the second you hold it up to the microscope for closer inspection, you taint it.  And if you aren't happy, is the hashing and rehashing of why you're not happy really that helpful?  Is that why many people spend years in therapy with little success?  Venting is finding relief through expression and often from validation.  There is a massive difference between venting and whinging.  Whinging is circular and feeds back into itself.  It's counter-productive.

So get out of your own head.  Get the hell out of your own way.  Focus on the things that make you happy, not the state itself.  Focus on the people that make you happy.  Focus on making other people happy.  Better yet, people you don't even know.  Fuck altruism - nothing makes you feel better faster than stoking someone else out.  Stop being a self-centered, self-indulgent, narcissistic malcontent and everyone wins!          

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