Saturday, January 29, 2011

“The chief happiness for a man is to be what he is.” -Erasmus


2011: Be Gretchen.

Gretchen Rubin spent an entire year concentrating on increasing happiness by working on particular aspects in her life: her marriage in February, her work in March, her friendships in June, spirituality in August, etc. She writes about this year-long journey in The Happiness Project, which I’ve just finished reading. Through the course of this year, she comes up with “Twelve Commandments”; basically precepts that keep cropping up as she attempts to keep her monthly resolutions. Her very first commandment, “Be Gretchen”, is a concept that has been the theme of my life lately, and thus it is my 2011 New Year’s Resolution. (just in time! It’s legit to make resolutions anytime within the month of January, right?)

“I have an idea of who I wish I were, and that obscures my understanding of who I actually am.” Gretchen writes. “Sometimes I pretend even to myself to enjoy activities that I don’t really enjoy, such as shopping, or to be interested in subjects that don’t much interest me, such as foreign policy.” 

I mean, I personally love foreign policy, but I see her point.
Too often I compare myself to others, or attempt to be interested in things, because I feel like I should. Like it will somehow make me a better person. But I’m sorry, I can’t cite very many hip new bands, I’ve never read Harry Potter, I’ll never look good in skinny jeans, and I just don’t care that much about economics. I really WANT to. But that’s just not Cath. 

I once asked a friend when was the last time he did something just because he wanted to, just because it gave him life; not because it looked good on his resume or prepared him for the next step. To my suprise, this charming, composed, ambitious young man responded by crying. 

And I could empathize. Life is too short, and we each need to invest in what gives us life.
And what better time to exercise “being Cath” than in a completely new setting? You may have noticed that I changed the layout of this blog recently (and still working on it!) My adventures will be less African-flavored, but no less adventuresome. I’m staring again at my beat-up red suitcases, packed and ready to head to Washington DC tomorrow morning. 

Being at my parents' has been a fabulous whirlwind of reunions, celebrating the holidays, reading, conversations, planning for the future, and travels within the US. But besides gaining a couple of pounds on all this gluten-free goodness, I’ve gotta get out because I’m itching to get my hands dirty again. I thrive on work, I realized, and you know me…just can’t sit still. Time to move on.  

So on the eve of the month which is always quite difficult for me, I’m starting anew. I’m hoping February won’t find me this year, if I move to a different city, or at least that it’ll be a little gracious. There are just so so many unknowns that I’m staring down. Daunting? More than a little. Exciting? That too. 

Author Tal Ben-Shahar describes the “arrival fallacy” in his book Happier. The arrival fallacy is the idea that, though you may anticipate great happiness in arriving somewhere or reaching a goal, arriving actually rarely makes you as happy as you had anticipated. If there is one thing that I have learned in my life of travels it is this: the journey is the destination, as cliché as that is. I am being mindful of all these new adventures, and trying not to fear the future, and especially trying not to stake my happiness on “success” in my new DC life. 

I’m not going to lie- I’ve had a few terrifying moments when I think over the bigness of what is ahead. New city, new job, new friends (inshahallah), new weather patterns (alhamdoulilah). However, I’ve come to serenity in the thought that I just need to “be Cath”, and enjoy the ride, no matter how dopey or unprepared I actually am.  

So, still figuring out what “being Cath” means as I move on to The Next Big Thing. This is my newest adventure. 

“As the Spanish proverb says, ‘He who would bring home the wealth of the Indies, must carry the wealth of the Indies with him.’”
-Samuel Johnson


Elizabeth said...

Good, good, good! That is a noble goal and I hope that you can find it and figure out how to carry that happiness with you.

And this:

Do not be too hard on yourself. While you give grace to others, give grace to yourself.

Sara S said...

Looks like you are on a "Happiness" book kick. Just wanted to add to your list: "Generosity: an Enhancement" by Richard Powers. Weird book with an interesting idea, but the reason to read it is to remind yourself of the nature of happiness.

rudie said...

this is beautifully written. i hope you are able to be who you are everywhere you go. you have a lot of wisdom and humour, that will surely get you far.