So in the class I’m taking, we’re talking about happiness and kindness this week.
Basically, the Buddhist belief is that the key to true happiness is kindness.
Kindness is not indulgence, though. Kindness is compassion and wisdom and love and generosity. It’s figuring out what’s needed and providing that. It’s not “here, I’ll give you whatever you want.” It’s not being a pushover.
This whole kindness = happiness thing didn’t completely resonate with me at first. Because I still wonder if there isn’t some internal emotion of happiness that isn’t caused by external events and interactions. But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense.
If you believe in the “everything is connected” thing, or the “we’re all part of the same world” thing (interdependence, which I have always believed in), then any act of kindness that improves the world, even in the tiniest way, will ultimately result in a more pleasant place in which to live. Which will ultimately make us happier as individuals. If more people are truly happy, that’s a good thing.
We’re not in this world alone, and our existence and the choices we make impact others. Maybe not in a huge way, but little things add up. So kindness makes a difference.
It’s also super important to be kind to yourself, though. You’re a living thing. You’re also part of the world, part of this life. You entire existence has basically been entrusted to you. Pretty much the sole true responsibility you have in this world is to take care of yourself (Again, not indulgence, but compassion and wisdom and love and generosity.) You deserve your own care and consideration, too.
If you are miserable, it affects how you function and interact in the world, and it does make a difference to others. I mean, we’ve all had the experience of someone in a crappy mood putting a dark cloud over an otherwise okay day, right? It does matter. If we’re in a shit mood, or tired, or overwhelmed, our families are affected. Then they go off into the world and their shit mood rubs off on other people. I know some people don’t believe in moods and people’s “energy” but I’m someone who really picks up on other people’s attitudes and it’s hard not to get impacted when someone is walking around with a giant storm cloud over their head, even if that person doesn’t mean anything to me.
It’s funny, because I’ve always been big on self-care and being in good health and blah blah blah because of my Spina Bifida, I found out early on that if I didn’t take care of my body then I’d end up in the hospital. So it was much easier just to be responsible and approach everything from a perspective of preventing things before they could pop up.
But my mind? That’s another story. I’m crazy cruel to myself in my mind. I’ve made a real effort to stop that the last ten years or so, but everything we learned this week sort of illustrated how much more work I have to do.
A lot of it comes down to comparison. “Comparison is the thief of joy” feels like the truest thing anyone has ever spoken (or written).
I thought that I had it mostly nipped in the bud because I’m 43, I’m beyond the age where things like being beautiful and micro-managing style and worrying about my social status matter in a significant way. I LOVE being an adult, to be honest. I love not being in my teens or 20’s. I love not having to worry about that crap anymore. It’s such a huge relief.
I’m more concerned with trying to make the world a tiny bit better (if not for grown-up humans, at least for animals and kids). I’m more concerned with being a good role model for Grace, because she does look to me to see how I react and respond to different things. I want to show her that she needs to honor who she is, and work hard at what makes her come alive, and be a kind and compassionate person (but not a sucker.)
But I’m lying to myself if I think I’ve gotten off the comparison train. I spend a significant amount of time anxious about the way I’m spending my life and what progress I’m making. I spend tremendous amounts of time agonizing over whether what I do is “valid” enough or “worthy” enough. I am constantly asking myself if the things I do, the words I write, the art I make are SIGNIFICANT enough. Are they MEANINGFUL? Do they have some sort of positive impact on the world, or at the very least make someone think?
If not, then it must mean I’m doing something wrong. I’m always aware that there are people who do it so much better than I can. And I think that unless I’m working to reach the level they are at, I’m not doing it right.
Which is ridiculous.
In an effort to explain what I am talking about: Think of your body as a whole. Now imagine if your two hands constantly compared themselves to each other and then felt bad when they found aspects of themselves “lacking” in comparison to the other hand. “My thumb is on the right side.” “My pinkie isn’t as long as the other pinkie is.” etc. If they sat there and compared themselves, every time they did it, they would find something wrong. So the misery would be never-ending.
But in the mechanics and design of the human body, each hand plays a role, right? If they were both exactly the same, there’d be significant problems with function.
That’s basically what we do as humans, every day, when we sit around and compare ourselves to other people. We all have different roles to play in this world, in this life. Some of us will have profound and public roles. Some of us will be the tiny little whisper of an idea way behind the scenes. That’s just the way it is. We all contribute in our own way. I know this. It makes total sense to me. I believe I am a quiet, behind-the-scenes person. I believe that my role is to raise a happy child, to be part of this little family of mine, to share my life with Tom, and to care for all the animals I have had the profound privilege of sharing my life with. My job is to make this little 1/5th of an acre we live on a peaceful, calm, and safe place for all who reside inside it.
So why do I still sit around and freak out on myself because I’m not producing the kind of art I love to look at? Or because I’m not really interested in home decor or cooking? Or worrying about myself because I have no interest in going to happy hour or parties?
I have given myself the “okay” on all these things a zillion times, I have even proven to myself that stuff like cooking and parties are not really things that add at all to my happiness level (they actually make me crazy), but some little part of me says “well, *they’re* all doing it and making a lifestyle out of it, so maybe you’re really wrong about this.”
The worst thing is agonizing over my art. I’m *so* sick of not letting myself make art because there’s not a good enough reason. I know that just being creative itself is a good enough reason, not to mention I enjoy it and it makes me so much less stressed and I love all the aspects of it and I lose myself in it and feel a lot of joy during the process…
BUT I can’t just let myself sit down and make art for any of those reasons, it has to be for a specific ACHIEVEMENT. An achievement that someone else has ultimately defined as “suitable.” I’m allowed to make art for a class. I give myself permission (sometimes) to make art as part of a larger series (but one that results in a completed project- something to show for all the time and effort.) I will sometimes feel okay about using my art supplies for investigative purposes (for instance, to compare one color to another). And I also allow myself to make art for the purpose of learning how a certain material works.
But making art just because I like it? Not allowed. Nope. Gotta be a good reason, and the reason can’t be just because it feels good. But I have no problem with other people making art because it makes them happy. In fact, I think that’s the most beautiful and noble and valid reason to do something (as long as it’s not hurting anyone). And I want Grace to understand that. Yet I can’t let myself do it.
What the heck? Seriously.
Clearly, I have some work to do in this area. And you know what? I want to figure this out once and for all. I may not be able to change my ingrained resistance to making art simply for me, but I know for a fact I can work on changing my habits surrounding it. And I’m going to try really hard to do this. So when the resistance comes up every single day, and all the doubts arise and try to prevent me from sitting down and pulling out my paints, I’ll have a solid way of saying “sorry, we’re not discussing this” to the guilt police in my head and then I can go make some art.