Americans have a superhero complex. We are raised to superhero standards and expectations: we must save the earth, save society, save the children, save democracy. Our training must be extraordinary, our choices extraordinary, our experiences extraordinary, we must be extraordinary, we must do extraordinary things, go extraordinary places, strive for the best, be impressed by the best, be the best, it’s the American way. Oy vey…what a heavy load. And we pass this heavy load on to our children.
The most striking thing I see in my patients today is how unhappy they are. Often smart, successful people, having achieved a rough vision of their life dreams. They finally have their dream job, their beautiful partner, their lovely home and healthy children, their house paid off, their hard-won retirement. They have achieved their goals. They have marched for rights and spoken up and participated. And they aren’t very happy.
Now, not everyone’s goal in life is to be happy. Many people think of happiness as a naïve leftover of a third-grade ambition, something trite, not worthy of our life’s efforts. Yet our most fundamental wish for those we love is for them to be happy. What happened?
Happiness is not defined by achievement, our doing. Or having. Or economy of any sort. It is a state of being that is determined by how we connect and love and feel and express ourselves. Its our ability to process often messy life experience and come to know how life is rather than how we think it is. We are happy when we exchange insight and experience with others, deriving meaning and purpose from ordinary belonging.
So, a word of caution to superheroes: slow down. Shift into more being and connecting. Plan a day devoted to being with no ‘to do’ list activity (and see how hard it is!). Sit with a friend as they cry. Make time for the store clerk in a genuine manner. Don’t just ‘work out’, go for a walk and listen to the birds singing or stream water running. Taste that avocado you are eating. See and be with and feel how ordinary life is separate and distinct from expectations and drive.
More ordinary being, less extraordinary doing.