I have a nasty habit of always thinking I know what’s good for me. Whether it’s a job or an apartment or a man, I’m utterly convinced when I see something I desire that this will be the thing that will provide everlasting contentment. Or at least joy in the foreseeable future—which is usually all I’m thinking about, anyway. The only time I tend to have any awareness about the fact that what I’m desiring may not be good for me is when what I want is, say, a Brownie Sundae; in those cases, I understand that satisfying a current craving may not be the ideal choice for long-term peace. With everything else, I seem to have full faith that I’m the best person to judge what will make me happy—and, what’s more, that there’s no way I could possible be happy without it.
What makes this especially ridiculous is the fact that I am someone who once thought holing up in her apartment for days on end with nothing but a pile of cocaine, a carton of cigarettes and some vodka to come down was a good idea (or at least something that, on a certain level, it made sense to do). It should have become utterly clear to me back when I changed my ways a little over a decade ago that I am perhaps the world’s worst judge of what I think will make me happy.
And yet I have, time and time again, gone and tried to make things happen the way I want them to. And when I say “tried to make” what I really mean is “tried with obsessive, single-minded force.” I can be quite determined when my eye is on a prize. But trying to force the world into giving me what I want has never worked; the world, as it turns out, has plans of its own and when I attempt to impose my will on it, I tend to come away frustrated and full of self-pity over how things never work out for me.
Here’s where the focus has been of late: at a certain age, I decided that I’d royally screwed up—that focusing so much on my career was the wrong way to go, that I should have instead been forgoing work for romance and popped out babies back before conversations about pregnancy always involved words like “high risk of chromosomal disorders.” And before I cracked open Sex and the Single Girl, I assumed that it was going to exacerbate those feelings. It was from the 60s, after all, when women started procreating before they’d graduated from college.
But there was none of that single girl shaming. And there wasn’t any married mother shaming, either. The main message Helen Gurley Brown seemed to want to get across was that whatever choice you’d made was the right one. As she wrote, “Enjoy it (life) from wherever you are, whether it’s two in the balcony or one on the aisle—don’t miss any of it.”
And I really think that passage nails why this is so important. Because the real problem with constantly lamenting how I’ve done it all wrong is that it causes me to not see all that I do have: I can’t even notice my beautiful apartment, which now has sage, rosemary, basil and dill growing on the ledge outside its French door windows, hear the laughter of friends when we’re giggling over a joke, or embrace the freedom of knowing I can take off on a hike, get on a plane or decide to eat popcorn in my underwear for dinner without upsetting a soul. And I need to notice, hear and embrace those things because that—and not getting whatever it is I think I want—is where I know true joy comes from. Sure, getting what I want may provide pleasure but more and more, I see that it’s not that different from the Brownie Sundae kind of pleasure: getting the job or book deal or man I’ve decided I want really just quells my hunger for a brief spell before giving me the desire to get the next thing I want. And keeping my happiness dependent on that, I’m beginning to figure out, is a lot like getting it from a regular diet of cocaine.
Interestingly, I’ve noticed lately that the more I try to force what I want to happen, the less the universe gives it to me. In many ways, I’ve forgotten how to want something without becoming frustrated when I don’t get it exactly the way I want to and it’s like the universe is saying, “Relax, enjoy where you are, stop trying to control everything and just let what’s supposed to happen happen.” So I think it’s time to stop pretending I know exactly what’s going to make me happy and just let the world keep on doing what it’s been doing all along.
I’m beginning to suspect it may have a better idea of what’s good for me than I do.