(There’ll be more on this later, but I wanted to think about and share this now. =) )
Cate Huston and I were celebrating the respective awesomeness of our lives when she confessed that she was afraid that her happiness might unravel any moment now. I told her that I used to get nervous about whether my life would turn into one of those Greek tragedies: perfection and happiness up to a point, and then inexorable ruin. She was relieved to hear that she wasn’t the only one who felt anxious about that. I shared how I got over it.
Most movies are predictable: the protagonist faces a challenge, reaches a low point, and triumphs. Tragedies work the other way: the protagonist triumphs, faces a challenge, and then falls based on innate character flaws, the consequences of previous actions, or the revenge of gods.
My life would be a boring movie. Up to this moment, life has gotten better and better. The rough points along the way turn out to have been essential for other goodness. Lacking the typical feel-good movie’s story arc, am I headed for a classically tragic beat-down?
Then I realized that life doesn’t have to be like the movies. It’s okay to not only be happy, but also to keep getting happier every day. If by some chance my life does take a turn that seems for the worse — and it can, despite plans and preparations – that doesn’t invalidate the awesomeness of life so far.
I’ll still have helped people. I’ll still have inspired people. Life would have still been worth it. I could get hit by a bus tomorrow and things would still be fine.
In a mean universe, this would almost guarantee that I get hit by a bus tomorrow. But I have the choice of believing in a mean universe or a kind (or at least uncaring) universe, and I choose the latter. =) Although I still look both ways when crossing the street, and am very careful around vehicles when biking.
If research is correct that happiness isn’t influenced by external circumstances as much as it is by personal set-point and perspective, I’m reasonably sure that I can be happy no matter what.
When you don’t rely on circumstances to make you happy, challenging events become part of the story. The perspectives, skills, and connections you develop during your good times are tested in your crucibles, helping you figure out what’s really important, like the way grief teaches us about love.
Having faced the down-side, then, I can look at the up-side. What if luck, opportunity, effort, and perspective mean I have an increasingly awesomer life? Maybe this life is an experiment in happiness. Maybe I can help figure out how we can work together better and laugh together more. Maybe I can share what I learn along the way and help people get an even better start. Maybe I can help people make that shift.
So life doesn’t have to follow classical narrative, and even the journey thus far has been worth it. I’m probably going to be happy no matter what, and challenges can be good things. And hey, what if this will let me help people be even happier? Wouldn’t that be awesome?