All of my friends are getting married and having kids and they’ve bought houses and have careers and I feel like I’m a big fat giant loser with no future but I can’t figure out how to change that. What should I do?
Stuck and Struggling
The short answer to your question is no, I can’t help you. The good news is that you can. Note that you didn’t write, my friends are having happy enriching relationships with their spouses and children, and they have safe, secure and beautiful places to live while they pursue enriching, rewarding work that leads them to feel worthwhile. You left all the feelings out. You described circumstances not lives.
What if I rewrote it to say, My friends have all entered into contracts that have a 50% failure rate and even the ones that don’t fail still have seriously uncomfortable challenges associated with them. They’re also entering into long term commitments with very young and needy people who are very nearly all want and no appreciation, and those commitments leave them exhausted at the end of the day. They also have signed agreements that tie them to onerous institutions which provide terrible service and yet make powerful and uncompromising demands that are made that much more complex if the first contract I noted falls into that 50% fail category. On top of that they spend most of their waking time being told what to do by incompetent people who expect far more than they ever give. I have no idea how they survive it. I could write that because it’s just as likely my version’s just as accurate as yours. It all depends on how you look at it.
I couldn’t count the times I met someone single who pointed to someone else and envied their relationship only for us to later discover the marriage was horrible for one or both parties. Of course kids can bring enormous rewards that are impossible to quantify, but if you think every single set of parents doesn’t have days where they wish they were single and childless then you’re not really thinking about what their day to day life is like. Did you appreciate your parents when you were a kid? Only the most self-denying poser would claim that they never put their parents through some kind of regular hell as they learned about and discovered the world. That’s just part of the deal.
As for homes, ask anyone who’s owned a house long enough and they’ll explain it’s a money pit that constantly needs your time and attention and it’s largely what keeps you working for that slave master that most people have for a boss. You know the one—the one that thinks your work is more important than your life? Half the super highly-paid executives that hire me fantasize about being a barista for good reason. That’s not a job you can really take home with you. And that’s their fantasy. To be able to stop that job at the end of the day, but thanks to smartphones and uber-connectivity, there is no such thing as private time anymore. You’re expected to answer every ding that travels through the ether.
I’m not saying those things can’t lead to a wonderful and rewarding life. But what you’re doing is like looking at the scenes where James Bond is making out with the hot girl, or driving the hot car, or when he’s at the Monaco casino in a tux eating caviar. Let’s not forget he also gets shot at, beat up, nearly cut in two by a laser or blown to smithereens by a nuclear device. Those are all part of the same story. So your selective editing isn’t telling the whole story. Because if you take away the drama—if you take away the conflict and the overcoming of obstacles, then what you’re left with is the only kind of life that is a failure—and that’s one that’s been left completely unlived.
Forget comparisons. Forget competitions. Forget judgments about where you should be. The true value in life does not come from any of the things you mentioned because I can find you tons of people that don’t have any of those things and they’re still happy. But if you’re basing your happiness on the collection of things outside yourself, then you’re looking for happiness where the media has taught to look for it rather than from where it really comes from.
The only thing that can generate good feelings within you is appreciation. So whether you’re appreciating being married or single, or whether you’re appreciating having kids or having freedom, or appreciating a home or being able to travel, or whether you’re appreciating a job or the act of making a difference, it does not matter. It will be the appreciation that generates the good life, not the stuff or status.
Stop looking for symbols of happiness. Look for actual happiness instead. If you’re not blinded by the other stuff, it’s actually not so hard to see. So go enjoy your day for what it’s worth and forget all of the comparing. It’s that easy.