An old flame got in touch with me the other day.
I hadn’t seen or talked to him in over 20 years. And neither had anyone else that I asked. Contrary to my fears, he hadn’t self-destructed. He’d done AA, married, had some kids and fishes a lot.
“I’m the happiest person you know,” he said.
Well, you know me — I want to quibble that two Facebook messages after 20 years doesn’t really count as “knowing” someone. And his happiness is self-reported. I have no way of knowing if he is representing his life accurately or if those things truly make him happy.
But I’m happy for him.
Penelope Trunk posted the other day the culmination of her research on happy lives versus interesting ones. She even has a little quiz to rate your own life. I came out -1, which puts me as “suspiciously well balanced.” Or lacking a self-identity. I’ve never had self-identity issues, but I always come out on this stuff as well-balanced. I’m halfway between right-brain and left-brain, halfway between Type A and Type B. It’s why I call myself a fence-sitter — I’m always on the line in-between.
I could never say that I’m the happiest person you know. Though I am a very happy person. I also think I have an interesting life.
Yesterday, David went for his physical exam. This is a new primary care physician, since we moved here only six months ago. He picked her partly because she has a reputation for being friendly to natural medicine approaches. She, like many people involved in natural medicine and new age spirituality, is very much against alcohol consumption. She told David he should give up alcohol since he’s pre-hypertension (his blood pressure was 124/84 and she feels anything over 120 is too high). David says he enjoys our cocktail hour; enjoys having a drink with dinner and he’s unwilling to give that up. She asked if he needs to drink (don’t they always ask that?) and he said no, but he likes it. Then she said that, since David practices Tai Chi, he should understand that you don’t need alcohol and that you can lift your consciousness through Tai Chi and that’s what Tai Chi is all about. And David said, no, Tai Chi is about moderation. It’s about the middle path.
Sure, we knew plenty of people in our years of training in the Taoist arts who gave up alcohol. David gave up alcohol for two years. I gave it up for weeks and months, doing various purifying gigs. People also totally gave up things like refined sugar, meat, sex. Sometimes you have to give stuff up. Sometimes you’re allergic or addicted and it can’t be in your life because it becomes a poison.
But it’s interesting how people gravitate towards the idea that anything that gives you pleasure is somehow interfering with spiritual development. Is simply bad and wrong.
In the long term, though, it’s hard to say what will contribute most to your life. You might give up all the food and liquor that give you pleasure and live into an ascetic extended old age, but what have you really gained? And what if you get hit by a bus?
As I said, I’m a middle path kind of gal. I gravitate to the health choices that make immediate impacts. Eating right and exercising are not only good for my long-term health, but they make me feel good now. Those choices improve my quality of life. I love a good glass of wine and the occasional brownie, too. Those also contribute to my enjoyment of life.
The happiest people I know? They’re not the ones laboring to give up all bad influences, trying to live forever and become wiser than everyone else. And neither are they the most interesting people I know.
The happy and interesting people are the ones savoring every moment of their lives. Pursuing their passions and savoring the pleasures.
I raise a toast to that!