By Jason Menard
Today marked the first day of school for many of our children. Little faces were aglow at the thought of re-acquainting with old friends and meeting new ones. Older faces were awash with a mix of anticipation and anxiety wondering where they’ll fit in the social pecking order.
All in all, it’s a day of promise – one where we hope for the future. Most importantly, it’s a day of fun and the anticipation of more days of fun ahead. While we want our kids to savour each and every moment of their days, it’s hard not to feel a little jealous about the freedom that their lives carry.
For them, the promise of a new day is always positive, but the true test of life comes when, as we get older, that promise gets broken.
The question is often asked as to why gossip rags and tabloid TV are so popular? Why do soap operas capture the imagination of so many? Why do we get lost in the search of fantasy? The answer is that we’re obsessed with an idealized version of life, the kind of which we’re not likely to obtain. And that promise of an unlimited future we enjoyed as a child, slowly ebbs away under the eroding forces of everyday life.
Driving past any schoolyard, we are regaled with the sounds of joy: raucous laughter and squeals of delight. We experience so much as youth and enjoy so much more, one has to wonder where does that sense of joy go as we get older?
Bogged down by financial constraints, time commitments, and interpersonal challenges, we spend too much time focusing on the can’t-dos and the negatives, instead of appreciating the positives. Every joy comes with a cost, which tempers our ability to fully feel everything that life has to offer. As a child, we enjoy the experience, as an adult we take measured joy out of the activity, balancing it with the financial cost and its impact on our budget.
That’s why we love the tabloids and that’s why we’re obsessed with stars. They’re not living beyond our wildest dreams – they’re living our wildest dreams! They’re living life free from the constraints that shackle us down and prevent us from exploring and expressing joy to its fullest. They have the financial wherewithal and time to enjoy the best that life has to offer without worrying about family budgets and mortgages.
The old adage states that money doesn’t buy happiness. And that’s true, but money does buy you the opportunity to maximize your return on life’s investment. Having the financial wherewithal to allow the mundane aspects of day-to-day life to recede into the distance doesn’t mean you’re going to be happy. But it does provide a freedom that we average folk just can’t enjoy – and that’s why we so hungrily gobble up the tabloid garbage.
And that’s also why we take such pleasure in discussing their failures. We don’t build them up to break them down – instead, we break them down because we can’t be built up ourselves to that level. If we can’t enjoy that idealized lifestyle, then we don’t want others to do so either.
It certainly isn’t an attractive aspect of humanity. In fact, it’s downright ugly. And it’s also a taste for schadenfreude that we acquire. After all, our kids are living life blissfully ignorant of the challenges that they’re going to face. They’re living in the here and now, not budgeting and forecasting for the future. That’s our job as parents and our jobs as adults.
Sometimes life throws you curveballs. Sometimes you get hit by that pitch. But as painful as it may be, getting hit by that pitch offers you an opportunity to get on base and, eventually, come around to score. Of course, some of us will be tagged out at second, some of us will come tantalizing close to home plate, only to be met by the catcher. And others of us will circle the bases and add another run to the board. Life’s not offering us promises, it’s offering us potential – and how we use that potential is up to us.
It’s forgetting that potential that prevents us from being happy. Sometimes we forget and lose our way, weighed down by the challenges that we’re facing. Instead of meeting the day with hopeful anticipation, we face it with grim resolve, stoically ‘getting through’ the day, instead of relishing every moment.
Our kids have it right. They don’t live Utopian lives: they face peer pressure and rejection on the school yard; they carry the weight of their parents’ struggles with them; and they are facing a future as full of uncertainty as promise. Yet still they’re able to laugh long and loud – they’re not wasting the freedom and joy that life has to offer. The key is to do the same as an adult. It’s not about forgetting about your challenges, it’s about maximizing the good in your day and dealing with the bad, but not letting the latter taint your appreciation of the former. It’s simple to say, but not so easy to do, but it’s something many of us have to get better at doing.
In the end, living in spite of life is no way to live. And when we look back on life do we want to say we endured it or enjoyed it?
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