Sunday, February 26, 2012
I hope everything in your life is going well. Though I’m exhausted and eagerly awaiting the coming spring break from school, I have no real complaints to lodge. Life just keeps surprising me and it only seems to get better. Not only was I selected to be my school’s Teacher of the Year, I recently received the title of Healthiest Person in Tampa Bay from HealthyState.org. I hope that when the story airs on the radio and debuts online that it will help others realize that they too can achieve their goals, whether they be weight-loss or personal growth oriented. As with any worthwhile pursuit, it takes patience and persistence. Now that Erin and I are certified yoga instructors, our new project for this year is to learn Spanish together. Nosotros estámos aprendiendo español y estudiamos diario. We did about 45 minutes worth of studying today, on top of taking Cleo on a couple of nice walks, running a few errands, and doing work for school. Much of the time today I kept reflecting on how genuinely happy I am. But the more I reflected on my happiness, the more I realized it was directly related to my contentedness.
If you had asked me 15 years ago, I would have told anyone that the worst thing in the world one could possibly be is “content.” In my youth, I equated being content with lying down and dying, that contentment meant giving up. Happiness, as the Founding Fathers had informed me, was to be pursued. There was no guarantee that I would ever receive it, but it is a necessary part of the struggle. Now that I’m “40ish”—as my beautiful wife dubbed me the other day—I think the pursuit is misleading. It seems that happiness is a by-product of pursuing greater ends and, all told, not much of a pursuit at all. If anything, it seems that happiness is a lot more easily found if we are willing to sit still. My happiness has grown incalculably from becoming more content with my life each and every day. The most absurd part of it all is that the less I want, the more I have. Once I learned to appreciate the abundance in my life, my contentment—and by extension my happiness—began to truly bloom. One of the niyamas or “personal observances” on the yogic path is santosha, which is often translated as satisfaction or contentment. To me, it is the most important of the five because without it we can never achieve even a moment of mental clarity. Our culture constantly bombards us with messages that if we don’t have this or that we are utter failures in one sense or another, but it is our job to always remind ourselves that we already have untold wealth in other forms.
If I were to enumerate all of the things that I have that are directly responsible for my contentment, none of them would be things at all. Not in a material sense, at any rate. I am married to an incredible woman who is “the bedrock of my being,” as I recently told her in a poem I wrote for Valentine’s; I have an amazing family who continually supports me in all that I do; I have an awesome job at a great school, one that supplies me each year with a fresh batch of young minds with whom I do my best to positively influence; I have a great schedule that allows me to discuss issues that I am most passionate about. I’m sure the list could go on for much longer, but you probably understand by now. As I share with my AP Human Geography students almost every day, we live in a developed country and so we really shouldn’t complain when we don’t get what we want because almost every single one of us has what we need. Heck, if you’re reading this right now, it means you’re online and have access to a computer—something that 75% of the people around the world can’t do because they’re still practicing subsistence agriculture to feed their families. The curious thing about those people, though, is how happy they are. Perhaps they know no better because they don’t live in a consumption based economy (yet), but they sure know how to focus on what they do have: clothing on their backs, a roof over their heads, food in their bellies, and love in their family.
What more could we ask for, NIP? Nothing. And it’s not because there aren’t other things (whether intangible or material) that can enhance our lives—it’s because asking is in essence wanting, and wanting only prohibits the fostering of contentment. Focus on what truly matters in your life and constantly work on reducing what you perceive as a “need.” Thoreau’s dictum of “Simplify! Simplify!” has spurred me on for the last few years, always leaving me to ponder, “what else can I eliminate from my routine?” The more I strip away the frivolities, the more I recognize the abundance in my life from which I had been distracted. A lot of people want to be rich but they don’t realize that they already are. It doesn’t take much. Just a willingness to cultivate our sense of contentment by constantly being grateful for what we have. Believe me, happiness will pursue you.