How much of our lives do we spend chasing the wrong damn thing? The education. The career. The house. The spouse. We check them off our list, as if achievement were more important than anything else. It’s how we had the idea of “winning” surge into politics, this Western idea of competition where the most important thing is being best and first and having the most. It’s a quantity over quality mentality that caught on like wildfire, lighting up television screens with people famous for their poor choices rather than skill, talent, or any other positive quality. Reality television as entertainment led to life imitating art rather than the other way around.
We’re chasing the wrong things. And by wrong, I don’t mean by a value I’ve arbitrarily assigned. I mean wrong, as in it won’t make us happy. How do I know this? Because happiness doesn’t equate to treating other people poorly, climbing on the backs of others for success. Happiness isn’t linked to bullying behaviors, to the rise in hate crimes and hate rhetoric, or even to religious fervor at the expense of whole groups of people. This isn’t what happiness looks like. And if this is “winning,” I don’t want to play anymore.
When we’re young, we let everyone else tell us what life is about. They tell us to get an education. We get one. Even if we don’t know what we want to do or who we want to be. So we choose something arbitrarily and wonder why we’re not happy with it. We feel if we change our minds, we’re failing. Because someone somewhere made us feel like we had to make one choice and stick with it forever.
They tell us to have a long-term relationship and then get married. We do it. Often, we do it young, or we choose when we don’t yet know who we are- or don’t yet see who they are. And if we change our minds, we feel like we’re failing. Because someone somewhere decided that marriage was the end game, and if we get divorced, we’re just quitters who gave up rather than tried to stick it out. As if the measurement of success in marriage was longevity and nothing else.
They tell us to accumulate money. Possessions. Children. We make decisions, and so often, we don’t think about whether or not they suit us. We do what everyone else is doing, life as learned behavior. And so often, we’re not happy. We call it emptiness, and we fill it up with things that make us feel full or at least keep us too busy and tired to even know that we’re not. We want to fit an idea of god into that space. Or art. Or goals. Or a soul mate. We give it a name, and then we search for it with an increasing desperation, taking substitutions just to fill the void we feel like screaming into.
We don’t forget to chase our bliss; it’s like we never knew we were allowed to in the first place. We leave childhood firmly in the past, and we start to say we’re too old for this or that. We must think joy belongs in that category. Or adventure. Or laughing loud and long over a small thing. Or being silly. We relegate all of it to the past, packing it up and placing it with the album that holds all those pictures of our lives that we rarely take the time to look at anymore.
We don’t seem to realize that our lives aren’t defined by anyone else. We structure them. We choose the jobs we work based on a variety of factors, but we can always choose again. We choose the relationships we’re in and what we will and won’t accept from another human being- in romantic, platonic, and even familial relationships. We shape our whole lives and then act like they’re something that happened to us.
I would be doing the same thing if I hadn’t blown my entire world to pieces. It started small, a discontent I could no longer cover up, needs that I couldn’t meet myself and weren’t getting met in the life I was living. It went from gnawing ache to roaring hunger, and I looked at the life I was living and knew I couldn’t do it for another 50 or 60 years. So I took it apart.
Goodbye, marriage. Goodbye, house. Hello, single parenting and new town. I took my life apart, and I put it back together the way I wanted it. I chose to fully invest in the life I was living, to give my children a life filled with joy and adventure. Maybe I didn’t have much, but maybe that didn’t matter anyway. Maybe our apartment was small and didn’t have all those rooms and a big yard, but it was close to everything and filled with love. Maybe I didn’t have a lot of money, but I could be creative with my budget and figure out how to make the smallest treat into a big adventure.
Maybe I didn’t have a spouse, but I could fall in love again. And I did. I could get hurt again, and I did. But it didn’t take away the love. In fact, it let me know that I could still feel it, that there was more love in me than I had ever imagined. Maybe I didn’t have the career I had once wanted, but I had the one I had once dreamed of and that was better. My whole life came back together, and I chose to chase my bliss rather than someone else’s idea of what my life was supposed to look like.
I still get people asking me why I don’t get a regular job so I can have more than what I have now. They don’t understand that I’d rather do what I love and have a little than do something I hate and have a lot. They don’t seem to realize that this is the life I’ve chosen, not one I’ve been thrust into by circumstance. Of course, I’ve had decisions that have set me back, but I’ve also learned. I hope I’ve grown enough not to make the same mistakes again. While I don’t owe anyone an explanation for my life, I sometimes feel the temptation to give one rise in me. I tell myself that it’s okay just to smile and let them wonder.
I’m done with letting other people dictate the terms of my life. I did that for far too long, struggling to find meaning in my life and failing to realize that the whole point of life- the entire meaning- is to live it. To find joy and feel love and connect with the world around us. I don’t just mean connecting with people, although that’s essential. I mean connecting with our environment and animals and the things we touch. I mean being fully invested in every moment, completely mindful that this is what life is about. Being. Living. Loving. This breath and the next, this heartbeat, this.
And life should not be one deep, anxiety-filled breath, trying to make it to the next one. It shouldn’t be something we dread or a to-do list we check off to say that we’ve done something. It should be full and real, and it should matter that what we enjoy is prioritized rather than made to stand and wait for another time.
We chase everything we think we should, until we one day wake up and realize that it’s not at all the way we wanted to live. Then, if we’re very brave and very determined, we start choosing again. We slowly start shifting our lives around until it looks the way we want. We choose our happiness, our bliss, our joy. We fill our lives back up with love rather than obligations, and we find a balance between what we need and what we want. We don’t make life this war we wage to pay the electric bill. We find a way to live it on our own terms.
And we start by chasing our bliss.