As we approach the New Year, I become more mindful of what I want to accomplish in the coming year. In past years, that has taken the form of specific, physical goals. Publish a book. Write and record an album of original music. Learn to code. I’ve accomplished all of these, and more, with varying degrees of success.
This coming year, 2023, I have decided to take a different tack. I will have one overarching goal, and while it has the potential to manifest into a series of physical goals, it is primarily psychological/emotional in nature.
I have spent most, if not all, of my 58 years operating in one of two modes.
The first mode is to pursue happiness and pleasure. Unfortunately, it has taken me 58 years to realize how self-defeating this is. As Mark Manson points out so eloquently, “The desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience; and paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.” In a nutshell, what Manson is saying here is that the pursuit of happiness does two things: First, it denies the fundamental truth of reality, which is that life is a series of painful experiences; and second, it creates a feedback loop of never being satisfied, as we constantly strive for the next big thing, be it a faster car, a newer phone, a better paying job, or a more fulfilling relationship. Newer and bigger and shinier is not always better.
The second mode is to just allow things to happen to me, and make the best out of each situation. The problem with this way of living is that I become an inactive participant, a disinterested viewer, in my own life. By accepting what happens to me at face value, by going with the flow and never questioning the motivations or eventual outcomes, I am actively choosing to be an NPC in my own game. Having the mindset that I have no control over what the universe does, and the best I can do is to try to make the best of each situation, abdicates my own free will in favor of a universe that does not really give a shit about me or anyone else. It is defeatist in the extreme.
There is a third alternative, one that not only takes into account the reality of living in this world, but also accounts for the fact that the universe does not really care one way or the other if I am happy or not.
The reality is that true happiness, true contentment, true joy comes not from having or obtaining the thing itself, but from overcoming the struggles to get the thing. The secret to true, lasting happiness lies not in the accomplishment, but rather in the obstacles that were overcome along the way.
Our social media-driven, über-capitalist society bombards us with not only visions of how we should define success, but also with visions of others whom appear to have cracked the code and are now “living their best life.” I speak from experience here – I currently have a horribly debilitating TikTok addiction, and scattered liberally amongst the videos of stand-up comedians and guitar primers and dad jokes, I am bombarded on a daily basis with videos that subtly (and sometimes, not so subtly) seek to make me jealous of someone else’s good fortune. Never mind that 99% of these videos are fake or staged; the seed has been planted, and my own desires are the fertile ground in which those seeds sprout to full bloom at an alarming rate.
And so, in response to all of this, the question I will be asking myself going forward, the question that will guide me through 2023, and hopefully beyond, is this: What am I willing to struggle and fight for? What is it that is so meaningful to me that I am willing to face the discomfort of confrontation and the fear of failure? Rather than ask, “What if?” I will ask, “Why not?”
After 58 years, it is well past time that I refuse to be a side character in my own story, that I stop being a bit player in my own life, and that I take a stand for that which I believe will make me truly happy. I will no longer be an inactive participant; I will, in fact, face the discomfort and struggles and pain, have the difficult conversations, and make the hard decisions.
To be true to myself, I owe myself that much, at least.