Sorry, this post isn’t an instruction manual. Although I have a few thoughts on the topic and most of them revolve around surrounding yourself with people who share your values.
I recently returned home from a vacation in Denver. My husband and I drove out to see my sister’s family and we were gone about 10 days. Usually when I return from a vacation, I feel listless and unexcitable. I feel run down, a bit sad, and sometimes engulfed in self-pity, of the sort that involves jealousy toward what others have. So I was a caught a bit off guard when after four days back at work I was still in good spirits.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a pretty upbeat person. I don’t believe a cloud of doom follows me around. I eat well, sleep well, and workout regularly. (My mom believes these are the tenets of keeping depression at bay and I’ve come to sort of agree with her.) However, I am very susceptible to self-pity when it comes to money, what people earn, the material possessions they can afford, how they can decorate their house, etc. I’m good at eventually finding the balance and talking myself out of my wallowing but it usually has a way of smacking me upside the head now and then. (Needless to say, I hate going to the mall.)
That’s the small picture you have of me: a smart, feisty, frugal, dog-adoring, travel-loving vegetarian who’s prone to bouts of horrible envy that often unfortunately lead her to marginalizing the best parts of her own life. Acceptance is the first step to self help. I’m a work in progress.
Anyways, after being back at work, still feeling energized, nonjudgmental, and generally optimistic, I started to think about where these feelings came from. Sure, I was drinking a lot more green tea. Could that be it? Could it be such a simplistic Zen explanation? I wasn’t having worlds more sex and I hadn’t recently received a bonus. (Those two are predictable triggers for me and increased happiness.) So what was it?
My sister. I think it was the result of spending time with someone whom not only do I love but whom I also view as happy and reasonable. When it comes to money, she never has as much as she wants but she has enough — a very important distinction. She doesn’t decorate her house with items from fancy stores. She doesn’t have top of the line frying pans. She walked around in an adorable pair of jeans she bought at Goodwill, where she also happens to buy plenty of her baby’s clothes. They hosted a large Thanksgiving dinner party for two dozen adults, a smattering of babies, many dogs and it was incredibly casual. They needed more plates, so they found some at a thrift store. She and her husband didn’t buy gifts for Christmas; she made him three candle holders out of cut-down tree branches.
But on top of all of this, she doesn’t brag about these facts. I really don’t even think she notices them in much the same way that maybe we don’t even know the street names when we drive to work because we’re just so used to our routine. I don’t need to rehash how easy it is to get caught up in wanting what the Jones family has. We all know the rat race. That’s why it’s incredibly refreshing and peaceful to hang out with someone where this doesn’t even matter, where the want for more isn’t even a conversation piece.
I think spending time with her helped me center myself. It was a chance to slow down and appreciate the little things. Her baby boy doesn’t care about riding around in a pink car seat that was a hand-me-down. He doesn’t know if she makes $30 grand a year or $100,000. He doesn’t know if there was a better choice for dinner that he’s missing. He’s healthy and chubby and smiley and proud and in love with his mom. He’s a ball of adorableness and sweetness and tenderness that makes your heart swell and just crush everything else in your thoughts. He’s as beautiful in used clothes as he is in brand-new duds. He’s happy if his highchair has cheerios or peaches and strands of dog hair sticking to it. He doesn’t care about hair styling products and duvets and more expensive curtain rods. He doesn’t know that there might be a more expensive day care center; he’s just happy being doted on and squealing with all the other kids and being spoiled where he is.
Truly, isn’t that what life is all about? Isn’t that the secret that everyone knows and always forgets? Maybelline’s new nail polish color isn’t going to make your Friday night any better. A pair of jeans that costs $125 isn’t going to change the quality of your life. I’m not saying that happiness is borne from not spending money. If you’re lucky to have disposable income, good for you. You probably worked hard. I’m saying that you’re more likely to be happy when you know what enough looks like.
Enough isn’t always a raise, a bigger house, a status symbol of a car. Enough is having a brother-in-law you love, a sister that is one of your best friends, and the world’s most perfect human as a nephew. Enough is actually wanting to spend your time off from work with your family. Enough is just time. It’s being alive and being able to enjoy having a breakfast together, walking around the dog park together, feeding your dogs together, finishing another bottle of wine, looking into a baby’s big eyes. It’s being able to afford new tires so you can drive 1,400 miles to make that visit happen.
The days are long but the years are short. Who knows what the future will bring and if we’ll ever have that much time for the extended vacation out west. Who knows how much bigger my nephew will be or when I’ll even see him again. I’m thankful for having a husband who wants to have that vacation with me. I’m thankful that I even get vacation time at my job. I’m thankful for my family. That’s what enough is.
This is the inevitable question every election cycle. I realize that some of the ways my life has improved are mostly the result of personal choices. However, some are connected in peripheral ways to the fact of who has been president. The following is a list of some of the random ways my life is better than it was four years ago.
1. I own a house now. At the time my partner and I bought our home, we qualified for the First-Time Homebuyer’s Credit. The credit gave us 10 percent of the cost of our home. In our case that was $7,000 that we got FOR FREE from the government to use on our down payment. I’m sure as hell not going to turn down free money. Seven thousand dollars is no joke!
2. I bought a new car from a U.S. car company on a 0 percent loan. Even assuming that the low end of a traditional new car loan might be 3 percent, this saved me nearly $2,000.
3. My partner and I have paid off nearly $20,000 in debt and have an emergency fund.
4. We have both received very small pay raises in four years but we have received something. We are fortunate that neither of us have lost our job.
5. I have received a tax deduction for the interest I have paid on my student loans.
6. Since it’s inception I’ve had about $2,000 more in my paycheck over the life of the Payroll Tax Cut.
7. Some improvements have nothing to do with math. Like the fact that I can tell my children a black man can be president. If that’s possible, then maybe a gay person or a woman can one day too.
8. With Obamacare I can get 100 percent free preventive healthcare as a woman. Thank you Obama!
9. The passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Act ensures me the right to equal pay even if I have a vagina!
10. And the best part? I got married and I got a dog! And DOMA got repealed!
Bestselling author John Green recently attended the wedding of two friends. The pair decided, in lieu of a first dance, that they would honor the same-sex couples in attendance by letting them have the first dance instead. Here’s how it went down, including the song choice that made me choke up.
When it came time for the couple’s traditional first dance, Joe read prepared remarks explaining that instead of dancing together, they wanted to open the dance floor to their gay and lesbian friends who are still legally denied the right to marry.
This was a large and very diverse wedding in a state that doesn’t even recognize same-sex civil unions, let alone marriage. And yet the ovation that these people received while dancing to The Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” was like nothing I’ve ever heard at any wedding. If there were dry eyes, I didn’t see any.
Change is coming.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older
Then we wouldn’t have to wait so long
And wouldn’t it be nice to live together
In the kind of world where we belong
You know its gonna make it that much better
When we can say goodnight and stay together
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could wake up
In the morning when the day is new
And after having spent the day together
Hold each other close the whole night through
Happy times together we’ve been spending
I wish that every kiss was never ending
Wouldn’t it be nice
Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray it might come true
Baby then there wouldn’t be a single thing we couldnt do
We could be married
And then wed be happy
Wouldn’t it be nice
You know it seems the more we talk about it
It only makes it worse to live without it
But lets talk about it
Wouldn’t it be nice