I have a pet peeve, and it is internet philosophy. I’m sure you’ve seen those articles with “5 things you didn’t know about successful people” or “10 quick tips to a better life” or “The real secret to happiness” and such. There’s one in particular that has me a bit wrapped up, the sentiment of which is that the way to find happiness is to “learn to love what you have.”
I’ve expended a lot of bandwidth here expounding on how little control we have over what we have. What I have is a lot of anger and resentment over what’s happened to me, and I don’t see loving it in my future. There are a few things I’m grateful for, not the least of which is comprehensive health insurance, but that is a tiny violet in an overwhelming sea of dandelions.
Dandelions are tenacious little buggers. You pull on them and the stems break off, leaving their hardy root systems untouched. If you try to get at one that’s sporulating, you cause it to disperse little seeds everywhere. You can’t mow them, and if you try to dig them all out, you won’t have any lawn left. That’s what my chronic pain is like, an embedded, tenacious weed. It’s got a nice hardy root system and the meds are akin to pulling off the dandelion heads – a temporary fix, at best. Drastic measures, like the nerve ablation, have caused it to spread out to the surrounding tissues and sprout up there.
The doctor says the muscle spasms that are causing my continued pain are a normal part of the healing process, a process that she speculates could take another six to nine months, at least. She intimated that another nerve ablation may be in my future. Bright side (in a manner of speaking), she was tentatively positive about the amount of functionality I might be able to get back. But hold on a second, because… six to nine months? I’m going to be on all of this medication for months? I mean, I’m starting to adjust to the idea that I’m going to have to treat myself a little bit more delicately from here on out, but I didn’t sign on for a year – or more – of opioids and muscle relaxants.
How am I supposed to love that? How am I supposed to wrap my arms around this trammeled existence and convincingly say to someone that I love it and am grateful for it? Because I’m really, really not. On a good day, I’m furious about it. On a bad one, I’m numbingly depressed. That’s not love. In fact, it resembles an abusive relationship. If my chronic pain was a boyfriend, all of my friends would be trying to get me to dump him. They wouldn’t be counseling me to “learn” to love him.
It’s such crap, these neat little clichés. Real life is messy and difficult. It’s too few violets and too many dandelions. It’s incredibly self-centered for someone in a position of power and wealth to admonish those of us on the fringes for not “loving” our lives enough. As if it’s our own fault that we’re not happy. As if we could be happy, but we’re not just not trying hard enough.
There’s a good bit of research about the fallacy of effort versus luck. People with high-paying jobs often misjudge the balance between the two. They assume that what they have is mostly due to effort rather than luck, when in fact, just the opposite is true. We don’t choose what country or family to be born in, or what state, city or town to grow up in. We don’t choose our parents’ abilities – or inabilities – to open doors for us, provide opportunities, network and nepotize on our behalf. Most high-paying jobs go to people who’ve been groomed for success since birth, a circumstance over which they had no control whatsoever. Yes, effort is important. But the fact that you make a lot of money doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve expended any more effort than someone who makes less.
Almost everyone expends effort to do what needs to be done, in their jobs, in their homes, throughout their lives. People in pain are no different. But it’s also hard for people to understand the difference between effort and luck when it comes to their wellness, and that diminishes the amount of empathy they can have towards someone who is ill. There’s a perverse sort of elitism among those who are physically competent and athletically gifted, as though they “made” themselves that way instead of being born that way.
But make no mistake, our physical abilities are due almost entirely to the genetic programs we got from our parents and the environments with which we interact, and both of those things are heavily weighted towards luck. Someone who works ten hours a day and has a two-hour commute via public transportation might be able to do more pull-ups than you, but because he doesn’t have the luxury of spending 10 hours at the gym every week (or being able to afford a gym membership), he’ll never know – and neither will you. Similarly, when it comes to debilitating injury and disease, the last thing someone wants to hear is that it was largely due to chance, because that means that no matter how much effort they expend, it won’t save them from tragedy, should it chance to occur.
Some things are easy to love, like a house by the ocean, or the luxury of being vegan, or being able to quit your job to raise your kids. But some things are impossibly hard to love, and the difference between them can be smaller than anyone realizes. More often than not, it’s just a matter of luck.
So don’t learn to love what you have. Learn to appreciate it, and the various turns of fate that endowed you with it.
Seems a lot less honorable that way, though, doesn’t it?