If you woke up tomorrow and a miracle had happened and your life were now exactly how you wanted it to be, what would it look like?
Last week I saw this question written on the white board in the office of one of the counselors I work with.
I've been thinking about this a lot. I guess part of the reason I was so struck by this question is that it runs counter to the psychological operation I'm trying to run in my own life, which is being happy with what I have--not making myself miserable by thinking about what I don't. Do what you can, with what you have, where you are is my motto. **
You can't go wrong with gratitude and resourcefulness, right? So is our counselor trying to make her clients miserable by teaching them to focus on what they don't have?
Maybe not. When I go into the kitchen to make something, I have an idea of what I want it to be...a cake, a casserole, a salad, a sandwich. I get out the ingredients I need for that particular kind of food and cook the item accordingly. If I went into the kitchen, pulled out a bowl, and just started randomly mixing whatever came into my hand-- a cup of flour, a cup of milk, a half an onion, a mango, dry pudding mix, a package of Ramen Noodles--the end product would probably be less-than-scrumptious. I might luck out and end up with something amazing, but more likely it would be an inedible glop.
And so it is with life. (Imagine that last sentence in a Motivational Speaker voice.) It's important to have an end in mind, even if it's a bit fuzzy, just so you don't end up mixing onions and chocolate pudding. Even if you enjoy every minute of blending the two together, you're still going to have to throw them out when you're done-- and then you will have wasted time, ingredients, and energy. I mean, at least you enjoyed it, but if you're going to cook, you might as well get to eat when you're done, eh?
I think it is key, even when identifying how things could be different, to maintain an appreciation for each moment of life. So much of life is about balance-- that "middle way"--between two extremes. Like finding a way to want/work towards good things while simultaneously choosing to enjoy the things you already have. Happiness should never be postponed for the perfect conditions.
So before I move on I do want you to know that I am keenly aware of the many good things in my life and that I am grateful for them: things like good friends, a good job, healthy children, a happy marriage. I'm blessed with parents and siblings and parents-in-law and siblings-in-law who offer us oodles of love and support. My health is good; Abe's health is good. We have plenty to eat. We live in a comfortable home. We have enough money to meet our needs and allow us to do a few extra things. We live in a place that is safe, not torn by war or violence, where we are granted freedom to choose to live as we see fit.
While I was thinking about what my "ideal life" would look like, I considered things like, "In my ideal life I would never, ever be tired." or "I would have spent three years in the peace corps after college," or "I would be married to a long-haired Brazilian sculptor babe who adores my every breath," or "The world would be healed of all cruelty, jealousy, and hatred and all people would live together in sweet communal harmony," or "I would live in a tree house in a jungle in South America."
Then I decided to go with a possible life that would exist here in the real world.
So, without further ado, here's my list:
1) I would get eight hours of uninterrupted sleep most nights.
2) I would be passionately in love with my husband. (Which isn't to say I'm not in love with my husband...but, you know, eight years in, kids to care for, finances to worry about...the fire's just not wildly ablaze...)
3) I would have a part-time job editing and/or be the proud owner of a wind chime shop.
4) I wouldn't be afraid to write and would be happily plugging away at a novel or a collection of essays or a volume of poetry.
5) I would genuinely love all human beings, be concerned for everyone's well-being, be honestly happy for everyone else's successes, and always know the right thing to say or do to help someone feel loved.
6) I would boldly pursue more adventure.
7) Abe would have a grown-up job in a university library and a 401K with a matching plan, excellent health/dental/vision insurance, and lots of paid time off. He would be paid enough to enable us to live debt-free on a single income, donate 20% of our income to charity, put 20% in savings, and use the remaining extra to take quarterly weekend getaways and one excellent family vacation every year.
8) We would live in a beautifully decorated Victorian-style house in the country on a big plot of land. We would have a big garden, a bunch of chickens, a goat, a cow that we shared with several neighbors, a horse, a dog that didn't bark, and a barnful of cats. The house would always be relatively clean.
9) I would run five miles a day four days a week, followed by yoga with a group of friends in a renovated barn in the neighborhood. I would be physically strong and confident.
10) We would sleep in on Saturdays and eat waffles with strawberries and whipped cream for breakfast.
11) I would have time for lots of reading-- fiction, poetry, history, science, art, religion, psychology, sociology. I would learn and learn and learn.
12) Soren wouldn't be insane; Liam wouldn't be behind. They wouldn't be perfect, but they would at least respond to positive healthy discipline in the way the books say they're supposed to. They would pick up their own messes without being prompted. There would be no whining for sugary snacks between meals. I would spend just the right amount of time with them. I would always know exactly what to do in every sticky parenting situation. I might even find the strength to have another child! (One that immediately slept through the night and didn't cry much, of course.)
13) I would have finally figured out my relationship with God and be busy cultivating it daily, gaining strength and guidance from a positive connection with the divine.
14) I would take dancing classes and piano lessons and karate lessons.
15) I wouldn't worry about whether or not people liked me. I would make friends easily and interact with others confidently. I would have many close friends from a variety of backgrounds with whom I felt comfortable just stopping by to chat, or visiting with while one of us hung out laundry. We would often have dinner at each others' homes. Our children would play together happily.
16) I would make lots of homemade things, like soap and candles and cheese and granola and warm nourishing bread.
Some of these things are unrealistic-- like hoping for my children to be different from how they are. Some of them are totally doable-- like making soap and becoming more confident. And others are future but not present possibilities-- sleeping in on Saturday, running five miles a ay. But it's kind of nice to lay it out there. To smack my hands down on the table of life and say without apologies, "This is what I want." (And then add, a little more meekly-- "But I'll be happy with what I have until I can get it.")
**My sister, Collette, and I recently discovered this is a life motto we share. "Where did you get it?" she asked me when we discovered this commonality. "The scrolling marquee at Cox's Honey!" I told her, "Oh. I think I read it in the biography of Warren G. Harding," she said. And that, my friends, is the difference between me and my sister.