It’s become a cliche to rattle off a list of relatively minor disappointments and then cover for it with a #firstworldproblems hash tag. A self-deprecating shorthand for acknowledging one’s blessings while apologizing for feeling anything but grateful and happy for them.
Gratitude–yes gratitude is important, but in a world that celebrates busy, rewards perfection and worships the pursuit of happiness only after it’s already been accomplished, I sometimes forget to value the alternatives to happy.
Pollyanna I may sometimes–annoyingly–be; but my favorite authors and artists aren’t the ones who write only about sunshine and rainbows and I’m no detachment-seeking acetic.
I was reminded of this yesterday, our first truly down-tempo day in a long time. A day with no comittments, no deadlines and no audience of either family, friends or staff to witness my every move and my every reaction.
I felt grumpy and uncharacteristically exasperated–with everything: a frustrating day at work for Chris. A teething, feverish, cranky toddler. An unexpectedly gloomy, rainy day in perennially sunny Delhi. A cancelled trip to Jama Majsid and an aborted attempt to go for chai and dosa on account of the teething short one. The beginning of the descent into the culture shock U. Having to cancel the Christmas surprise I’d planned for Chris–which would have been our first real date out in eons and last chance before family comes to town for the next 3 months. Embarking on a new project and realizing how horribly ill-suited I am for the work.
I realized though, at some point between Will face-planting into a puddle of pigeon-poop and me accidentally covering the kitchen floor in microscopic shards of glass from a broken vase, that perhaps it wasn’t so much that I was having a bad day, but instead that I needed–very much–to have one. I needed a short break from happy, from striving to be the most cheerful, well-adjusted person in the fish bowl.
I like busy. I like to-do lists. I like my work-like obligations, I like entertaining and cooking and having family and friends over and staying up late at night to pour over the photos I’ve taken from our adventures around town.
But there is an anesthetic quality to being busy all the time and the price I pay for moving constantly is a certain superficiality of both thought and emotion. As any mother, any parent, anyone who’s moving, working, striving every waking hour of the day knows–which is to say, most people–it’s difficult to truly think or reflect deeply, on either “first world” or “real” problems, when you’re falling asleep every time you have the chance to sit still.
Tuesday I crossed nothing off my to-do list, I ate far too many leftover cappuccino cheesecake bars. I bickered with my sweet husband (who empathetically indulged me). Instead of spending every spare minute busy with chores and commitments after Will went down for his nap, I read and I thought.
Frustration teaches. Disappointment begets inspiration. Sadness sparks creativity and occasionally taking a day to feel really miserable can sometimes be more pleasurable and even more productive than forcing good cheer.
Fulfillment isn’t a state of constant happiness. It’s a mix of whichever healthy emotional experiences will bring both the most joy and the most growth at the same time.
Tuesday was a day filled not with joy but instead with, ahem, “growth” (to put it rather euphemistically). But there’s nothing like a bad day or a few #firstworldproblems to recharge and feel grateful for those days when the sun is shining and happiness is so easy to come by.