happiness isn’t quite “finding a pencil”

June 30, 2011

introspection

I suppose our goals, and by extension our priorities and do’s, change over time. Once upon a single life ago, “waxing” secured a vanguard position on a daily do list, with “new outfit” scrawled in second. I’d make an afternoon of loot-loss at Olive & Bette, Pookie & Sebastian, Foley & Corrina… and a whole host of other ampersand boutiques; it was a way to pass the time. But priorities shift when you go from me to we. And “pass the time,” becomes something other, as irregular and foreign a luxury as mid 17th century moiré. The lacy demi-cups and loungewear are replaced with coffee cups and shapewear. Almost.

I still have wants, only now I prance them about like needs. “What? Sorry, but I need a mandolin that cubes!” And with babies, I genuinely didn’t need to argue over expenses because—even though I never ever thought I’d see the day—my focus shifted off of me. Naturally. No one had to tell me to do it. Nesting, full on. Strollers, changing tables, onsies, videos, books, college savings. Yes, I spent, but it wasn’t for me.

venice23 018

Before kids, when I was much younger, I remember thinking, “Why would you have a child before you have everything you want?” I admit, I don’t even think I meant, “before certain goals are achieved,” or “before I’m established in my career and have somewhat of a nest egg.” I meant, quite simply, why bring another person into the equation when you’ll then have to spend money on her clothes and crib in lieu of your personal lust-list of textiles, upholstered settees, and photography trips to Cape Town? Why would you invite someone into the world who’d compete with all that? Who’d now need her own blankets and bathtub? Bergdorf’s would become that store I’d eye with hunger from across the street, too tempted for a close-up peek into its windows, for fear of it stealing my now supposedly selfless soul.

I could just picture it. Me in brown rags (or ill-fitting clothes from Daffy’s), temporarily escaped from Ms. Hannigan, with a teething infant aggressively at my bosom. The two of us shivering, like homeless children in Christmas films, pressing my careworn face against an upmarket restaurant window.

What I didn’t know then, what I was too young to feel, was that the stuff buying feels delicious for a few days, weeks at most, then the giddiness gets sopped up by a new need-want. And then, despite everything you’d thought about your own happiness and desires to travel in grand luxury, creating a family becomes your need-want and no amount of tissue-wrapped purchases can quell the want.

“There’s never a perfect time to have kids,” people say. There will always be a reason when someday in the future makes more sense. When you’re more financially stable, when you’re happier in your career, after the promotion or at least after bonuses.

There will always be a reason to wait.

But eventually we die. Eggs break while bank accounts flourish, and relationships stop relating.

I don’t have buyer’s remorse for all of the cockamamie purchases of my past. Schweitzer Linens was, by far, my favorite me-only purchase: something that was grandfathered into my marriage, an item I could never justify buying to Phil today, but something I’d buy again without a moment’s hesitation.

I come upon things now—my KitchenAid mixer for one—and as I look around me, I’m surprised by the things that fall into the totally worth it category, and by those that are among the pile of what a waste (list to come tomorrow–now posted here).

Money levels off if that makes any sense. It’s a necessity for freedom. But in terms of the giddy-factor, it wanes. And while you are appreciative for all that you have, you set your sights on something new. It’s not that you actually set out to do this. It’s just that magazines and blogs basically diddle with your want-sensors.

From “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown”
HAPPINESS IS FINDING A PENCIL.
PIZZA WITH SAUSAGE
TELLING THE TIME.
HAPPINESS IS LEARNING TO WHISTLE.
TYING YOUR SHOE FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME.

Lasting happiness, I’ve found, doesn’t even come from achievement. Because then you’re always looking to achieve more. That’s not a state of bliss and contentment. It’s competition, if only with yourself.

No, real happiness is teaching. It’s giving of yourself to someone who needs—whether they know it or not. It’s taking pleasure in the smaller things—the way Lucas sucks his thumb and picks his nose, singlehandedly, when he’s tired. It’s making new memories, learning new things, and it’s occasional non-work-related travel. Travel enriches our soul, gives us a “reset” and a new perspective. Travel is a feast. Gotta say gluttony is my favorite of the sevens. I’ve got to find a way to get to Burma, Cambodia, and Vietnam with the top of my worth it list (aka my family). Or, at the very least get to Epcot.
 

11 Responses to “happiness isn’t quite “finding a pencil””

  1. Joan Says:

    I have been reading your blog for like seven years or some craziness, but posts like this are what keep me coming back. Thank you, Stephanie. This feed my soul.

    Reply

  2. cc Says:

    Vietnam for sure.. the people are some of the nicest and the scenery.. I would go even for photography alone (but of course I know I would fall into the trap of taking photos and not actually soaking it in first hand) ha

    Reply

  3. Karen Says:

    I’ve been reading for years, and I can’t say I like you yet. Self-absorbed postings and publishing only skinny pictures shows you’ve not grown or accepted yourself. I always say I won’t look at your posts again. Though this one, I swear my last, did resonate.

    My best to Phil, and may his heart cure once you finally leave and stop the drama.

    Reply

    • Stephanie Klein Says:

      Hey, we can’t all be liked. And you obviously have better things to do with your time. Just the same, thanks for reading and weighing in… and on subject, “publishing only skinny pictures” simply isn’t true. Let’s call a spade a spade. We can agree that I’m a two-ply extra-strength roll of “self-absorption,” which entails publishing photos of myself at any weight. And if you comb through the archives of this year and late last year, you’ll see photos of me 30 lbs. heavier than I am now. So, please, cut a girl some slack.

      Reply

    • Danielle Says:

      I get where you’re coming from, Karen. I’m actually pretty critical when it comes to the things SK writes. I like to say I call BS on the stuff that is, in fact, BS. Also, I just can’t stand when I see people blowing smoke up bloggers asses as if their shit don’t stink on every.single.post. It’s kinda like, form an opinion. No one agrees with anyone else on everything!

      But, I do think there is (slow) progress with this post. Is SK still self-absorbed, still worried about being the perfect hostess, about appearances, about huge diamonds and layers of pearls? Probably, to some extent. That doesn’t go away over night.

      But I do think having children, getting to mid-30′s, achieving some amount of professional and personal “success” however you define that and still feeling somewhat empty or unsettled can make you re-evalute some things. Whether that reflection stays with you is a different issue.

      But when you’re young and all you want is a picture perfect everything, you can sound like SK has and sometimes still sounds like, though not as much now. But then you get that and you realize even when you have the picture perfect everything it doesn’t mean you are happy. Not like you thought you would be. Not meaning that you aren’t happy, you’re definition of happy might change. You can do one of two things. You don’t grow and you continue to think, well if I only achieve this one more thing/buy this one more bag/get a vacation house/go to the ritz in Paris/etc. And those things do give you a temporary high. But when all you are worried about is status and stuff, no amount will ever sustain you for long. Or you decide to be happy with what you have. You are happy to be lucky enough to make a living as a writer as opposed to being a famous, NYT bestseller. You make a choice to be happy with a 1,300 square foot home instead of “5,000 square feet of perfect.” You decide to take joy in evening walks with your spouse or kids instead of taking joy in the next pair of diamond earrings you might get for your birthday. Option 2 people just end up happier in the long run. And I really do think SK is trying to get there.

      And I don’t blame her for not posting more pics in her bigger phases. That’s not an SK thing, that’s-unfortunately-an average american woman thing. Not every woman, but a lot of us don’t like having our photos taken/posted when we aren’t feeling great, looks wise. Sad, but true. Not gonna judge for that.

      Reply

  4. Jes Says:

    I had this revelation some years ago, and as I’ve scaled back on my shopping/acquiring, I’ve increased my appreciation for, well, pretty much everything else. I used to get excited about a purchase for our home or my feet or my face. Now, shopping is an occasional diversion, and more often a relative bore compared to what I could be doing instead.

    Reply

  5. bella1 Says:

    Whoa, I don’t get these snarkers. “Some amount of success” – do you complaining people have a clue how many millions of unpublished manuscripts are out there? I’m not going to bother addressing line by line the irrelevant and judgmental comments, what meager lives these people must have.

    SK: I 3njoy your books, blogs, adventures, soul searching…and since I am a massive reader, i know for a fact that you have a unique and original voice, one of the few I have come across.

    Reply

  6. Farah Says:

    My lust-list still exists after 4 children – however, it has transformed into a list of Pottery Kids items, boutique clothes, cars for my older two, etc. I rarely ever think about what I’d like to have. And I’m ok with that. I guess it is similar to the pre-children “Gag reflex at the smell of a dirty diaper” to the post-children “Oh, I have poop on my hand? I didn’t notice.”

    Reply

  7. Sez Says:

    whoa, why are you people snarking at Stephanie for posting skinny pictures? She’s always been honest about her struggles with her weight – and has worked hard to lose it. Stephanie you look great – I would be posting those snaps all over the place as well, good luck to you.

    Reply

  8. misstraceynolan Says:

    That description of you and your sad baby looking through the shop window = hilarious.

    Reply

  9. Cat Says:

    I LOVE this post.

    And even more so the picture! Is that Abigail?

    Reply

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