The other day somebody asked me how things are going, and I told him, “Well, the job is good, I just got back from leading a tour in Italy, my relationship is terrific, I’m paying down my debt, I’ve been out hiking a little, and my health is good.”
And all of that is true. But when my friend said to me, “Wow, that all sounds awesome,” I had to stop and think; Yeah, that does sound awesome. And the next thought was, Why don’t I feel like things are going awesome?
I mean, you would think that with so many things going my way, I would be all happy, walking around in a glow of gratitude, with a big grin on my face all the time. But I’m not. I’m not moping, either, or feeling unhappy. I guess I just feel kind of flat. Part of that, I think, is that I’ve been taking anti-depressants for the first time. Maybe they are leveling things off. Another part is probably exhaustion: I work several 12-hour shifts a week driving a cab, travel is tiring especially when you’re a group leader, and I just have a lot of things going on.
I think of it like part of my life is the on-stage part, what people see, but with every play there are a lot of people working very hard behind the scenes. For them, the satisfaction isn’t glory or creative expression, but a job well done. That’s kind of where I am these days: working hard, thinking about and dealing with a lot of things, and not having a whole lot of time to reflect about it, much less be Mr. Happy.
And maybe that’s the point: I don’t have to be Mr. Happy all the time. I have moments where I feel real satisfaction, even joy. And I am largely free of the emotional lows and obsession — maybe that’s the pills, maybe that things are going well.
But maybe the bigger picture is that what we call happiness — feeling awesome because you’re doing great or you got everything you wanted — isn’t the point. Maybe that’s just an ego trip. Maybe satisfaction and an even emotional keel is more like it. Maybe gratitude is the goal, instead of happiness. And maybe the whole point is to stay humble and curious about the process: What is there for me to learn here? How can I not “get more” but “do better,” especially for other people?
Here’s one of my favorite passages from the Big Book that says all this pretty well:
Still more wonderful is the feeling that we do not have to be specially distinguished among our fellows in order to be useful and profoundly happy.
Not many of us can be leaders of prominence, nor do we wish to be. Service, gladly rendered, obligations squarely met, troubles well accepted or solved with God’s help, the knowledge that at home or in the world outside we are partners in a common effort, the well-understood fact that in God’s sight all human beings are important, the proof that love freely given surely brings a full return, the certainty that we are no longer isolated and alone in self-constructed prisons, the surety that we need no longer be square pegs in round holes but can fit and belong in God’s scheme of things–these are the permanent and legitimate satisfactions of right living for which no amount of pomp and circumstance, no heap of material possessions, could possibly be substitutes.
True ambition is not what we thought it was. True ambition is the deep desire to live usefully and walk humbly under the grace of God.