Being okay

The other night my friend was consoling me after a stressful, frustrating week. Like tango and conspiring, it takes at least two people for consolation to come about. After my friend listened to my troubles and expressed sympathy, I noted that despite my recent troubles, I have many good things in my life. My friend asked me to do something I would never have done unless they had suggested it: to list the good things in my life. I did, and it made me feel substantially better.

Something I have been thinking a lot about lately is how to be okay. What do I mean by this? Well, instead of trying to be happy, or successful, or organized, or cool, or funny, I think maybe it might be more healthful for myself to accept the mundane safety that makes up most people’s lives most of the time. Even soldiers during war usually spend most of their time marching, cleaning their rifles, shining their boots, waiting and waiting and waiting for battle to come their way. I am not denying the terrible suffering and despicable evil that exist in the world or dismissing the existential challenges of human life that permeate the air and kill us all at the rate of 60 minutes per hour. What I am simply pointing out is that the necessities of life are only absent when people have nothing to eat, nowhere to rest their head, or the rapidly decaying bodies of the terminally ill. Failing those things, we live and sustain ourselves. That might not seem like much, but it’s the most anyone can lose.

Something I worry about a lot is failure: failing to get a summer internship, failing to impress my teachers and friends, failing to satisfy my own expectations. But I think that the problem is that I am worried about failure at all and that I worry about failing. I do not think the realistic possibility of disastrous is something I see as impending, although at any moment disaster can strike. I think this because I have noticed that my fear of failure is unrelated to whatever is actually happening in my life as it relates to the things I am worried about failing. I do not worry about disappointing a professor when I have not done the readings for a class. Instead it’s when I am stressed about something else in my life, or when I am comparing myself to others, or when I am simply feeling blue that I start worrying about all the things I could fail to achieve.

I worry about my pride being hurt, but I should really be worried about hurting my own pride. Pride is like the pockets of Jeff Bezos or the stomach of Takeru Kobayashi, the world’s most famous competitive eater, it never can be filled enough. Pride is a denial of the sufficiency of the necessities of life. If I say I need food, water, shelter, work to do, friends to play with, and a family to love, then I should only be worn down by the trials and tribulations of life, yet I let pride eat away at me. If there’s a failure I need to worry about, it’s that I’ll fail to prevent pride from spoiling the good things in my life. But if excessive pride is destructive, it is also true that we can help notice our own feelings, be concerned about our own lives and try to enjoy ourselves.

My therapist characterized the jubilation of the Philadelphia metropolitan area after the Eagles won the Super Bowl and became world champions as “a mass exercise in mindfulness.” I am not sure if I have heard a more insightful comment related to sports, even from Stephen A. Smith. What was so great about the Super Bowl is that it was fun to watch, that you were actually engaged with what was happening in front of you. The celebrations afterward and the parade were an extension of that. Obviously you cannot get as jazzed about every football game as die-hard Eagles fans were about the Super Bowl, but it is no exaggeration to say that most people’s lives are largely a succession of moments where you have what you need and where what you are doing at the moment is not hurting you any more than is bearable.

When my friend asked me what was good in my life, after thinking about it, the things that were listed were not things that make me or my life special. I was thankful for my health, my family and friends, and for things that really mean something to me, like history and stand-up comedy and the beautiful trees of Pennsylvania. I think that upon even the slightest reflection most people would honestly say that the things that make their life worth living are things they have had for most, if not all their lives. In fact this has to be the case, because most people throughout history choose to go on living for years and decades, in spite of misfortune and persecution. It takes a lot to strike someone down, whether a bullet or a disease or despair does it. And there’s nothing that can be thrown at anyone in which there are not numerous examples of people surviving. And surviving is just another way of choosing to go on living. I have thought of one additional thing I am thankful for in my life: that everyone I have ever known has had the courage to persevere through life’s greatest challenges.

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