Tuesday, July 12, 2011

You Can't Deny Your Way to Happiness

These are all actual thoughts that I have actually had. I have combined and condensed where applicable:

  • It's too much trouble to cook just for me.
  • These PJs are worn out/ill-fitting/uncomfortable, but it's okay; it's not like anybody important sees them.
  • This tool/appliance/software doesn't do a very good job at what I bought it for, but it would be wasteful/self-indulgent/selfish to spend the money to replace it.
  • I love the way I look in this dress, but all the other girls at the bar will probably be in jeans. I don't want to feel out of place. (N.B. - this is an interchangeable dilemma; if I choose jeans, the other girls will all be rockabilly dolls, etc.)
  • I have always wanted to go to New York (or L.A., or Berlin, or Ankor Wat) but it seems like a pipe dream. I should be more realistic.
  • I would love to learn to speak Japanese (or Russian or play the cello or snowboard or write code) but I don't really have a good reason to learn it. It would just be a waste of time and money.
What I realize, when I lay them all out like this, is that the underlying message of every blessed one of them is, "I don't deserve any better."

If you've ever had thoughts like these, you know it's true.

So. We all know that, no matter how much it might goose the economy, you can't actually buy your way to happiness. Everyone from the Bible to the Beatles has been pounding THAT message into us.

But what they don't tell you, what maybe they don't even know, is that you can't deny your way to happiness, either.

Take a second with that. Let it sink in.

An brilliant friend and mentor of mine, Annette Oxindine, introduced me to the Victorian concept of the Angel in the House, or rather, Virginia Woolf's spoof of it:
She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed daily. If there was a chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draught she sat in it ...
Seriously. Does she sound happy?

[A feminist aside, of which I have many: If you think we've progressed in the intervening century or so, if we've come so far, if we've left the Angel in the House so far behind, what is Superwoman Syndrome? What sets us up for The Mommy Wars?]

But I think our girl Ginny got it wrong on one of her particulars above. (Please don't hurt me, Annette!)

There is a fundamental difference between self-DENIAL and self-SACRIFICE. That, however, is a whole 'nother post ... 


  1. That's a very good point - deny, deny, deny. It isn't a healthy way to live. And you're right that trying to have it and do it all is a self-defeating proposition too.

  2. Thanks, Jenn! I'll be really interested to hear what you think about Part II, which I hope to get up on Friday...