“Cannon baaaalllllll!” I watch from the opposite end of the pool as my son bravely careens into the water. The other adults in the pool (who are all trying not to get their hair wet) scoff at the massive wave of water they just got hit with.
They see a “little kid.” Young and naive.
I see my son. Who, at one point in his life, hated water so much, he protested baths for a week.
Kids are allowed to change. They’re allowed to grow up. In fact, we expect them to.
But for some reason, we decide that….at some point…..they’re done. They reach 18….or 21…or “married-with-kids,” and they’re “all grown up.” They are who they are.
Sure, we may not continue to mark their height on the wall. They’re done shooting up like a beanstalk.
But that doesn’t mean they’re done growing.
It’s just….that growth….is no longer physical. It’s no longer measurable in pencil marks.
But here’s the thing. Humans love SAME. CERTAIN. And PREDICTABLE.
We cling to KNOWN QUANTITIES. And we resist change.
Once we decide so-and-so is such-and-such, we leave it at that.
Box that shit up, and tie it with a bow.
Why? Well, if I had to guess….I’d say it’s a serial case of disappointing-ice-cream-itus.
What the hell is that?
It’s the experience of going to Dairy Queen, and ordering the same Smartie Blizzard. Every. Damn. Time.
I do this.
And I do it, because I know it made me happy in the past. And guess what? I want to feel happy again. Therefore, I order it. For the thousandth time.
Because, heaven forbid, I order something new, and it’s a disappointment….and I’m sitting there, stuffing my face full of disappointing ice cream…..wishing I had ordered the thing I KNEW I would love. For sure.
It’s a combination of hedging my bets on the surest outcome, not wanting to experience regret…..and pure motha-fucking LAZINESS.
The trusted brand of happiness
OK. But am I the only one? And does it stop at ice-cream?
We all do this kind of thing. And disappointing ice-cream? Can take many forms.
My parents, for instance.
They live in a house that could be the set of a 1980s movie. The bar in the basement literally has beer on the shelves, from 1983.
Their lives could be defined as a struggle for homeostasis.
Anything that throws them off of “same old same old” is like a real-life Pac-Man invader. They try so hard to outrun change. Clinging to the same brand of happiness that they’ve trusted their whole entire lives.
In fact, my mom was wearing an outfit the other day, that I can remember her wearing when I was in Kindergarten…..30 years ago. White turtle neck underneath a red Northern Reflections sweatshirt. Again. 80s.
So for them, it’s the physical STUFF in their lives. Artifacts that remind them of how they defined happiness in the past…..and therefore…..how they define it now.
Not that they’re materialistic. Not at all. They just....don’t see the need for change. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?
The pain of loss
But the ironic thing is….we only ever lose what we cling to.
Mind blowing. Right?
That’s Buddha’s wisdom. Not mine.
But it is SO true. We try SO desperately to make things…people….places…experiences…OURS. And yet, the more we OWN them, the more we are disappointed when they inevitably change, evolve or die.
We actually experience MORE pain when we hold something close (then lose it)….than when we simply allow things to drift in and out of our lives.
And trust me. I don’t think that means we should never experience things deeply. I think it just means….we shouldn’t ATTACH ourselves to the things we feel deeply about.
Easier said than done. I know.
The temptation to turn NOW into FOREVER
Take relationships, for example.
Some of them? Amazing. Others? Become familiar security blankets.
I mean, tell me it isn’t true that A TON of people are staying in their current relationship because, well…..disappointing ice-cream.
They don’t want to get out of their shitty relationship, because their next relationship could be even shittier. And they’d rather bathe in shit, because they know what to expect from it….rather than chance the unknown.
I am convinced it is one of the reasons marriage even exists at all. The very human desire to turn NOW into FOREVER. No questions asked.
Marriage is a declaration. You are mine and I am yours.
And trust me. There is something sooooo romantic about that. I know. It feels so fucking good to be “chosen.”
But when it ends in divorce….like my relationship did….the pain is immeasurable. Because there is a sense of betrayal.
“What do you mean I’m losing you?! You PROMISED I wouldn’t lose you.”
I think good....healthy....relationships are out there. And they are the kind that encourage growth and change....despite the fear of growing apart.....but I don't think saying "I do" (or not) is what makes them great.
The freedom of allowing happiness to change form
To me, the art of living does not consist of clinging to a familiar kind of happiness….just for familiarities sake. The art of living is in allowing happiness to change form, without being disappointed by that change.
Happiness, like a child, must be allowed to grow up.
This is one of the reasons why I live in an apartment. It is one of the reasons I plan to lease my next vehicle. And it is also one of the reasons why my Tinder profile is set to “casual.”
There is so much pressure in society to OWN. To possess.
But I actually really like the idea of being able to ride the wave. Then to catch the next one.
There is beauty in release. And sometimes we don’t even realize how hard we are gripping onto something. Until we let go, that is. At which point, we notice how weird it is NOT to hold onto that thing anymore.
But truly, it is the moment when we have nothing to lose….that we become the most courageous. We are only timid when there is something we can cling to.
And it is my mission to jump off as many cliffs as I can. Not out of reckless abandon, or a refusal to commit. But rather, to allow my own happiness the opportunity to CONTINUALLY grow.
There are certain foundational elements to my life that will always be there. Love, for instance. Particularly, the love for my kiddos. But I am open to experiencing that love in ever-changing ways. And not just getting into a rut of....this is how I love you.
Cultivate your own happiness
Because I am a happiness junky. And I realize that in order to cultivate that happiness to its truest potential, I’m gonna have to push myself to keep growing.
So here’s my promise to you (and I’d love for you to do the same). The next time I go to DQ? I’m gonna order a flavour I’ve never had before.
And yes. We’ll all be chancing the experience of disappointing ice-cream. BUT! It may just be the best decision of your life.