A woman came to see me last week; she needs a lawyer. She married her high school sweetheart 10 years ago. As she described her relationship, I could not escape the impression that she was more in love with her spouse than anyone I have ever met. One problem: he was a drug addict. Recreational heroin. But it wasn’t a recreation. He was hooked since before she met him. But once he settled down and started a family, he would beat it. He would grow up. A decade of pain and suffering. But mostly self-delusion. After their second daughter was born, she laid down an ultimatum: enter rehab or she and the girls were leaving. To his credit, he loved her. Too much to let her go. But she was serious this time. She consulted with divorce lawyers. It worked. He entered rehab. For 9 months. When he was done, he had some good news and some bad news. The good news? He beat it. He was clean. He hadn’t touched a drug for almost six months. The bad news? He met a woman in rehab and fell in love. He was leaving her and the kids tomorrow. She could have full custody. And the house. He needs to be happy.
I couldn’t help her. I am not that kind of lawyer. But the story haunted me and left me with the following truth: everyone I have ever met is broken. The damage ranges from functional to debilitating, but the manifestations are inescapable. And, no matter how hard we try to mask our pain, no one is immune.
I know a guy. Can’t say anything about him because he is easily identified (and reads this blog). I would literally offer an arm to have any aspect of his life. I cannot identify a single flaw in his existence. Yet, he is the most miserable man I have ever met. If I didn’t know better, I would assume he is suicidal. Impossible. But, true.
Yet, I meet people every day who are blind to their own reality. They are happy. You would think these people have gratifying lives. They must be insane. Or delusional. I literally hate them. Don’t they know what I know?
Think I am crazy? Consider this. Last year, 36,000 people sent angry letters to The Gap. Their beef? They did not like the new Gap logo. These are people whose lives are so complete, so focused, that the font of a Gap advertisement inspires enough hostility to justify an actual letter of protest. I wish this was my biggest problem.
Next. The Iphone5 is out. Tens of thousands of people (read: losers) stood on line for two days for the privilege of buying a device that offers marginally better service than a 1990-style flip phone. If you watched the news, you saw people celebrate their luck in spending $200 (and 48 hours) for the honor of getting a cell phone that helps prevent too much face-to-face interaction with other human beings. Celebrate? You’d think they won the lottery and could retire in style. I wouldn’t be that happy if I was appointed to the Supreme Court.
The delusional nature of humanity is enough to push me over an edge that I have straddled all year. Until yesterday. A man came to see me. His brother was his financial advisor and stole his entire retirement fund. He doesn’t want his brother to go to jail, and faced with a choice, prefers to let him get away with the fraud than risk prosecution. But, all things being equal, would like his money back. This man, describing a pain that I could not comprehend, had a smile on his face the entire meeting. “It’s only money,” he said. He was looking at another ten years of indescribable pain. But wanted to make sure I understood that he was happy. Loves his wife and kids. Would figure it out, one way or the other.
It comes down to this: life is hard. For everyone. It never gets better and cannot be solved. Happiness can be found hiding in the margins. Those who accept the burden, and seek fulfillment in the foundations of their relationships, are happy. Those who expect more, will always be disappointed and sentenced to a lifetime of insulting waiters, complaining about Gap logos, and criticizing their spouses. It is a lifetime of misery that can breathe freely only with the release of a new cell-phone or the purchase of a new pair of shoes. It is ephemeral. Meaningless.
I have a lot to be happy about. I have much more to worry about. Here is what I learned in the last two weeks. Happiness is not a scorecard that can be reduced to a mathematical formula. It is an outlook. A perspective. A state of mind, and nothing more. I won’t lie to my quarter-million readers; I am stressed. I think if you knew what I was going through you would forgive my impatience. But, I am happy. Not with what I want or expect, but with what I have. It’s not nearly what I deserve but it is enough.