Thursday, March 15, 2007

In Search of Contentment

I don’t know about you, but I have a problem feeling content. And I’m beginning to think that it’s part of our American culture. We hear again and again about the American dream. Own a home. Start a new and successful company. Climb the corporate ladder. Be at the top of your class. Focus on productivity. Be all that you can be.

I’ve lived my entire life striving for perfection -- reaching for the American dream. I was the valedictorian of my high school class, one of the top three English graduates in 1994 when I graduated from college. Because I’ve chosen a career as a family manager, I often wonder if I’m doing enough, being enough. I tell myself that I should have a successful writing career in addition to my job as an at home mom. And I often berate myself about my homemaking skills. Because all my children are in school, I should have spotless mirrors, vacuum lines across the
carpet, clean windows, and perfectly prepared and balanced dinners every night. Sigh.

In my quest for a happier life, I’m getting professional counseling. My therapist has pointed out that I’ll feel happier if I can appreciate what I have. Keeping a gratitude journal is one way to acknowledge the haves instead of the have-nots. Another thing I’m trying to do is to acknowledge my pampered lifestyle.

Take this morning, for instance. I’m not sure why, but I was in the mood to listen to opera as I got ready for the day. “The Worlds Greatest Arias” played as I showered and put on makeup. I began thinking about Mozart and the royals who could afford to have him perform for them. That’s when I realized that, hey, Mozart plays for me any time I want him to. Sure, it may be a CD recording, but digital technology is probably as good or better than what some listeners heard at a live performance hundreds of years ago.

I’m a big fan of books and movies like, Emma, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Wurthering Heights . . . you get the idea. I’ve imagined what it must be like to have nothing to occupy my time except making social calls, sketching, riding horses, preparing menus for the staff to prepare, attending balls. I’ve even gone so far as to put myself as the heroine in the setting of my favorite books and movies. Coming back to the realities of my own hum-drum life always seems anti-climatic.

When moments like this morning happen, however, I’m amazed to realize that my life is as pampered as the lives of my favorite heroines – maybe even more so. For example, I enjoy central heating. I also have a large jacuzzi tub with lumbar jets. When I get the whim to soak in the bath, I don’t have to summon servants to heat water and fill my tub. I simply turn a knob. Two water heaters in my basement are my servants. Very efficient servants, I might add.

This fall my dad took me and my brothers hunting at a local pheasant farm. We trudged through the frost-covered fields as his dog locked onto the scent of a pheasant hiding in the underbrush. Up flew a large rooster. We raised our guns and locked onto the bird. Boom! Boom! It fell to the ground. And for some reason my mind flashed to a scene from Pride and Prejudice (the six-hour version) of Mr. Darcy hunting as his servants pounded the undergrowth with sticks to flush
up game fowl.

I remember thinking, “I’m more spoiled than Mr. Darcy.” I hadn’t even paid for the privilege of shooting the day’s game, my dad treated us. I even used one of his guns. And we’d arrived for the hunt in style -- a club cab 4x4 pick-up truck with power windows, heating, and satellite radio. As the other hunters spread out along the ditch bank, I began to contemplate the ways in which my upbringing was perhaps more privileged than Elizabeth Bennett’s.

For starters, I got to go hunting with the men. I bet Elizabeth didn’t. Our family had horses and 10 acres of land – probably less acreage than the Bennetts, but still a large estate by today’s standards. We may not have had carriages, but we owned both a car and a truck. And although I never spent the summer in London, I did travel to Centerville most summers to spend a week of fun and sun with my cousins. We also took trips to National Parks, hiked into the Wind River wilderness, and played at Disneyland. They didn’t even have amusement parks in Elizabeth Bennett’s day. What does that say about the time in which we live?

My counselor advised me to adopt the following motto:

Use it up,
Wear it out,
Make do
Or do without.

I can’t say that I follow it perfectly yet, but I’m beginning to see its benefits. When I’m not trying to remind myself what I want to buy next (furniture, a new computer, a new bed spread), I’m more at peace. Using what I have instead of acquiring more frees up a lot of time. Time to spend reading instead of shopping. Time to spend with friends instead of poring over glossy mail order catalogs. Time to spend laughing at comics with my kids instead of trolling the aisles of Wal-Mart listening to them whine for treats.

Contentment remains elusive. I’m not there yet, but I can see it on the horizon.

1 comment:

scienceteachermommy said...

I made a similar blogspot just before Christmas as I paused for a moment to think about all that working the past year has taught me. I have really learned a lot about stripping away all the non-essentials, and getting to the core of who I am and what is important to me. I haven't always been entirely happy with what I've seen under there, but I am much happier than I would have expected to be say five or ten years ago. And central heating, nothing! If we look at Jane Eyre, we are talking central plumbing, sister! I'm sure the toilet is more efficient than the the chamber maid. My grandmother is fond of saying the best thing about the good old days is that they are over!