What is it “to do something with your life?” And why are we chasing a happy life? Can we reach a “happy ever-after”?
Does it even exist? Like the writer Amoz Oz reflected in his book “How to Cure a Fanatic (2002): mid 19th Century people knew who they were, that they were going to stay mainly where they grew up and work with whatever trade ran in the family. They knew if they were decent people, they would be rewarded somehow in the afterlife. But after the World Wars our perception of a happy life shifted, and suddenly material happiness was the most sought-after commodity.
But did we get to become happy? Ever after?
No, because happiness doesn’t work that way, no matter what all the fairy tales and success stories say.
I have found that my happy moments have been just that – moments. Don’t ge me wrong, I am not ungrateful. To the contrary. I am extremely grateful for every happy moment I have been given throughout my life. And I’d say, I’ve had quite a few. I remember biking through Berlin on my way to my temporary work as a translator. I had such a surge of happiness it was almost difficult to keep on biking. The reason? No idea! I just felt like I had a great life. Happiness jumped on me. And then it left again…
That said, I’ve had even more tricky moments, sad moments, horrific moments and challenging moments. But those moments make me recognize the happy glimpses, whenever they appear. And that’s how I think happiness works.
I used to think about these things, when I worked in a grocery store way back.
To lend a smile and some nice words to the customers might give them a better day. I never cared what they did for a living. I could see that many were not feeling all that well. They needed compassion and sometimes a small talk and I could give them that. It was actually possible for me to make someone’s day better. If that is not power, I don’t know what is.
Like the woman with the grape. Every time she came in, all she bought was one single grape. She was so thin, it might have lasted her all day. And the next day, she came in to buy another grape. She was sick, of course. But the light or glimpse of happiness in her life might simply have been to buy that grape, get that smile and exchange a sentence or two.
One day she stopped coming in. I never saw her again. And I missed her.
She taught me something. She taught me what it can be to be a human. What suffering it can entail. Things that no Instagram account or success-story can ever tell you. It’s not the success stories that are the ones teaching us how to go about Life – simply because you can never duplicate someone else’s life journey.
Thus, I find it pretty ridiculous with certain “Life Changing Stories” that are there to inspire or help us “regular people” understand that if we “just put our mind to it”, we can make it and become famous as well.
I read one of those stories a couple of weeks back. A Swedish actress talks about a movie she is about to make. She says the main character in the movie is a girl who dares leave her home town, go to the capital and make a life for herself. The actress draws parallells to her own life, leaving a small town as a teenager, settling in the big city. Today, she is an accomplished actress, starring in great Hollywood movies.
But, you are not only tough and ”a go-getter” if you leave your “Little Place” You can be tough in so many ways.
The woman with the grape is a tough one, if anyone. Someone fighting such a battle is nothing but tough. Staring death in the eye, every day. Still making it to the store to buy that one grape and get that vital human interaction… To me, that is something extraordinary.
You can be tough and successful while staying in your “Little Place”. It hasn’t been that popular to do that though.
Not until TV came to the Swedish farmers, did their line of work reach a status level worth talking about. Suddenly, work as a farmer was turned into a soap opera with love and loss, cows and early morning romance. In fact, last year, there were 30% more applicants to farmer schools in the Jönköping area, than 2012.
Okey, we’re not talking amazing numbers here – 2012 there were 269 applicants, 2017 there were 350. But, an increase is an increase 🙂
To be fair, TV might not have everything to do with it – it can just as well be climate change, an increased interest in the environment or other factors that promote more applicants in this particular area.
What we can say though, is that never before have there been so many farmers with love trouble headlining different gossip magazines. And I am pretty sure the mere fact that farmers are being talked about within other areas than the milk price being too low, is a contributing factor to people wanting to choose that way of life.
But should headlines and random people decide what you want to do with your life?
My thought is that what teaches us life and makes us happy, is compassion and the ability to see all the nuances in being a human. There is not simply “succeed” or “fail”. There is only being one human going about life the best you can, with the prerequisites that are only yours.
No need to compare. No need to compete. If it’s not with yourself.
To do something with life is in my world simply to be able to look yourself in the eye saying you did your best with what you had and you saw that there is more to a person than that single person. In order to exist, you need so many others – and the job is to do the best you can with your existence – and at best give something back. We were not created in a vacuum. And life is certainly not lived in a vacuum.
The grape-woman did her best with her prerequisites. She wasn’t dealt the best hand, but she did something at least. And perhaps her small interactions in the grocery store helped her in some way. And fact is, she is not forgotten.
Her battle was with herself, and we all know this battle will one day come to an end. For some sooner, for some later. But end, it will. Happy or not.