Recently, my husband and I had a budget meeting that stressed me out for no particular reason. We have regular budget meetings, and we keep good track of our expenses.
But I still absolutely despise having student loans, I hate deciding the in's and out's of where to save money and what to save it for, and I abhor the whole responsibility of money altogether. I hate spending it on anything more than five dollars.
I have this nagging feeling that says to me, once you pay off those loans, then you can really start living your life. My doubts and anxieties feed into this concept that juggling money and paying off loans is a pre-cursor to my true happiness, and that once we are debt-free all will be bliss.
And I have to physically, verbally remind myself that I am the same human being whether I am in debt or out of it. Because valuing happiness as always on the horizon of the next milestone is a dangerous way to live.
When I was single, I thought that I would be happy when I was dating someone. Then engaged, then married, then having kids. When I was studying for finals, I told myself that I would be so happy when they were over, only to find myself wasting away intellectually in the summer wanting school to begin again. When I am teaching school, I am always looking forward to next week's lesson plans, one round of evaluations being done, going home in the evenings, or the feeling that Friday night brings.
I get it, this longing for happiness in the future is a part of being human and not truly belonging here anyway.
But this overwhelming tendency to place happiness on the next task, the next achievement, and the next dream means skipping out on being truly present where your life is right now. It makes one weary, and it makes one thankless.
No, I'm not out of paying my students loans. No, I don't have a home of my own yet. No, I haven't reached all of my artistic and creative goals. But I have accomplished a hell of a lot in my twenty-five years, and it would be so dumb if I didn't constantly have new goals swirling around me, pushing me to do better and be better.
Learning to be content and unceasingly grateful for what you have, right now in this uncomfortable, aching moment, that is being present to your life. Even if it is messy and scary and not exactly what you want: happiness is not off in the distance, it's right in front of your face, only we really don't realize how good we have it.
What do people typically want out of life? Material things like beautiful homes and Instagram likes and Anthropologie sweaters and nice stationary and reliable cars...yes, they are all good, but they will not fix your habit of looking for happiness around the corner. That habit is something to be rooted up and healed within you; it is not out there housed in things that you can acquire.
And every time I freak out about finances and stresses of adulthood, I remind myself that I have not only a good life, but a rich one.
I have love. I have the ability to create. I have the honor of doing good work every day. I have slow coffee in the morning with the sunrise. I have the world of literature at my disposal. I have a son that giggles and flaps his hands when he sees me. I have beautiful friends. I have food. I have music. I have the things that give my soul life. These good things are always there, mixed in with the bad parts of life and the suffering of it all. These good things are always shining through, if only I manage to take off the blinders of my own shortsightedness and happiness-chasing.
"To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich; to listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with open heart; to study hard; to think quietly, act frankly, talk gently, await occasions, hurry never; in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common - this is my symphony."
-William Henry Channing