I have a friend who went to India a while ago, and the day before he was going to fly we had a phone conversation. It turned out he was going with another friend who had made all of the travel arrangements, and this person hadn’t realized that for just a little more money they could have flown business class instead of economy class, which of course on such a long flight would have been far more comfortable. We were speaking about whether they could manage to change their tickets, if there would be a penalty, and how much nicer it would be to go business class. If they could arrange for the upgrade, they reasoned, they would arrive rested instead of exhausted and unhappy. Right in the middle of this conversation about moving into business class, my friend said, “I wonder how much it would cost to go first class?”
I know that state of mind so well. As soon as you get into business class, you start thinking about first class. This is how we are conditioned–there is always something else to want, even before we take a moment to appreciate what we already have, or are about to have.
…An essential question we might ask ourselves is, “What do I really need right now, in this moment, to be happy?” The world offers us many answers to that question: You need a new car and a new house and a new relationship and…But do we really?
–from “The Kindness Handbook” by Sharon Salzberg
It’s funny, but when I think of what I need to be happy right now, the list isn’t a mammoth one: good music, good company, good food, something engaging to read, exercise…and the vaporization of Donald J. Trump.
I watch a lot of cable news and there is this commercial that keeps coming on about a family getting reading for Christmas. The mother and children are in on a holiday surprise for dad and they keep exchanging knowing smiles. The doorbell rings. And it’s the Ace Hardware man delivering a grill for dad!! The father looks at the giant grill wrapped in a red ribbon and he is overwhelmed with joy.
I don’t know any men who would get that worked up over a grill. But I guess I avoid the barbecues where I would meet such men. My point? It’s hard to imagine feeling a sense of completion when it comes to receiving a big fancy gift. Or a major upgrade in status. Or anything that is supposed to really make you happy: moving to a new place, getting married, experiencing phenomenal success and swimming in money. These are all great things, but they’re not prerequisites for happiness.
That family in the advertisement could have had a leaky roof, a charred meal, no sense of where the next paycheck would come from. But they might have been happy anyway. Who knows? I’m not glorifying poverty, just suggesting that happiness can be entirely independent of the stuff we think we need to get there.