Every day brings new articles in many media outlets that give instructions on how we can each live our most perfect life. Usually, those articles come with lists:
The Ten Steps to Achieve This Type of Wonderfulness.
The Eight Phases to Becoming Excellent at Something or Another.
Five Rules for Attaining this Great Thing or That Greater One.
Criticize me if you like but I’m just fine as I am. I’m not interested in knowing how to make my diet the best it can be or my exercise routine the most efficient it can be. In fact, since I’m retired I really don’t care much about any type of efficiency. I don’t care whether I optimize my personal relationships in every way possible or what time of day science says is best for consuming coffee.
I just want to live a comfortable and low-stress life for the years I have left. It seems to me that constant efforts to improve everything about my life would just lead to more stress. And we all know that stress is a killer. So, I choose to not worry about whether my life is all that it can be.
Of course, I’m obviously in the minority because bookstores (remember those?) are just loaded with self-help books of every stripe. If any one, or two, of them actually worked why are they all needed? Hmmm, that’s an interesting question.
If we really want to make our life the best it can be why not look at the countries where people are the happiest? I’m sure you know where I’m going with this.
You have most likely seen those surveys that list the happiest countries on earth. They seem to always have the Scandinavian countries on top. A lot of reasons are given, and a lot of speculation is done, to explain why these countries with no palm trees, no Tiki bars and endless winters produce the happiest people. The answer could very well be in what those surveys actually measure.
An article in Atlantic magazine took a deeper dive into what these surveys of happiness mean. What they found was that maybe the right word for the feelings being measured wasn’t so much happiness as contentment.
The Atlanticarticle points out that the emotion being measured isn’t the one where you jump up and down with a great big grin on your face while clapping your hands with ultimate joy. No, they were talking about the feeling of contentment. At the end of the article, moderation was mentioned as being a key to this feeling of contentment in the Scandinavian countries. Jukka Savolainen of Wayne State University used the Swedish and Norwegian word lagom which means, “just the right amount.”
It made me think of that old cliché, “happiness isn’t having what you want but being happy with what you have.” Yes, a lot of people will roll their eyes at than one. But I happen to believe that contentment comes from within one’s self and not from how many shiny new objects you buy.
Of course, basic needs have to be met. But beyond that, do the latest and greatest items make you that much happier, or do they just lure you into wanting whatever replaces them?
Let’s go back to the parody titles I wrote above. We seem to be a society that doesn’t just chase shiny objects. We also chase the latest and greatest ideas to make us the absolute best version of ourselves that we can be. Do we ever get there? And if so, how do we know?
I see these articles every day and the unmistakable implication is that happiness comes from continuously chasing certain attributes that “experts” tell us are necessary for personal success. But guess what? When you complete all those things from today’s articles, there will be more articles tomorrow. And some of them will contradict each other.
Maybe we should slow down some of these attempts at self-improvement and settle for “just the right amount.” Especially those of us in our retirement years.
During my professional life, I constantly read books on management and leadership so that I could be the best supervisor possible. After about a dozen of them, I noticed that they all presented the same basic concepts. They just worded them differently. I think a lot of self-help literature falls in that same category.
I read for fun these days. I dress for comfort instead of success. It doesn’t bother me if I go through my day in the most inefficient manner imaginable.
My truck is not the latest model. My community is not gated. I cut my own hair instead of paying big bucks at the hairstylist and it looks like it too. But it doesn’t bother me.
Maybe my life isn’t the best it could be. But it’s good enough and I’m content with that.