We tell our kids they should aim for great things. Be the best student, make it to team captain, get the main role in the theatre play. We celebrate when they succeed and offer comfort when they fall short. We think we make their goals our own, when in truth they are often fighting for ours.
It's scary how excess has become the norm in almost all we do, but it's not exactly surprising given that most human lives start like this. These are the children who will grow up without a hint of how to live happily. Without knowing the value of balance, of relationships and of self-appreciation.
Instead, they know only one strategy: maximize. They'll follow it and get that high-paying job, the right set of friends and the right set of things (usually a lot of them). They will "do well", or at least believe so.
But maximization is a direction, not a place. It can never be reached. So these same kids who were trained to achieve are now running to catch the air. Good is never good enough, less is boring, the mouse-wheel keeps turning and they run faster and faster.
Once a friend told me that the only way to be happy is to be happy. I didn't take him very seriously but now I get it. He meant that if you make happiness depend on something that didn't happen yet, then you'll be unhappy until then. And since there's always something more you can wish for, it's likely you'll spend most of your life unhappy if you think that way.
It follows that appreciating where you already are is the only way to feel good and satisfied. It's crucial to reflect on what you need, and even more on what you don't need, in order to realize that sometimes good is good enough. Doing this can certainly be hard, but reaching what you want gets significantly easier when you narrow it down to what really matters to you. Be it objects, goals, tasks or rules, getting rid of what is not essential gives me a sense of clarity and rest. Whatever is left feels important, yet manageable.
We humans haven’t done this very well so far. As a matter of fact, after a few centuries of living for more, we've become extremely good at it. We've built a whole society that thrives on continuous growth, therefore perpetuating it with tremendous efficacy. What we don't collectively know yet is that we're fooling ourselves. That we're betting on a strategy that is fundamentally flawed. That we need to recycle this ability of ours and point it in a more promising direction.
In the meantime this noisy and accelerated way of living is taking its toll. It's harming our bodies, our happiness and our relationships but also the planet we live in, which only knows one rhythm and can't keep up with ours.
Therefore I think it's worth reconsidering this strategy. It's worth taking a few steps back to reflect on how all this is affecting our lives. To think of how it's affecting our physical health but also our relationships with our parents, our children, our friends and our lovers. To notice how it's preventing us from doing what we like, from being where we want to be and from acting how we want to act. It's worth imagining how it would feel like if we'd jump out of the mouse-wheel.
Living a sustainable life is not about sorting trash and efficient light bulbs, although those things may be part. More importantly, it's about control and intentionality. It’s having the freedom to decide what gets to be part of your life and what doesn't. It's about realizing we're on that goddamned wheel and that we can jump out.
For our own good, we need to collectively learn to appreciate what we already have. At the end of it awaits a rare reward: serenity.