I read a truly wonderful article by Arthur C. Brooks in the New York Times the other day entitled “Love People, Not Pleasure.” The gist of the article is that our drives to be wealthy, famous and powerful are the precise factors that can make us unhappy. If we were to focus more on the quality and closeness of our personal relationships, we would be much happier.
That’s an over-simplification, of course, and I encourage you to read the article for yourself. It is dense with insight. One particular insight that I’d like to focus on today is the use of social media and specifically, blogging. For example, Brooks, says this:
“Consider fame. In 2009, researchers from the University of Rochester conducted a study tracking the success of 147 recent graduates in reaching their stated goals after graduation. Some had 'intrinsic' goals, such as deep, enduring relationships. Others had 'extrinsic' goals, such as achieving reputation or fame. The scholars found that intrinsic goals were associated with happier lives. But the people who pursued extrinsic goals experienced more negative emotions, such as shame and fear. They even suffered more physical maladies.”
I can certainly relate to this in terms of my own life and in terms of blogging. I’d always hoped to one day publish a book. Of course I’ve even fantasized about becoming popular and of one day reading my own book reviews on the New York Times. I’m human. But a long time ago, I found that the greatest pleasure in life comes from personal relationships. I get a lot of satisfaction from my marriage, from my children, from the friends and family I have. I’m lucky to be surrounded by caring, smart, hilarious people. It’s an embarrassment of riches, quite frankly. And I’ve spent a lot of time tending to these relationships. Touching base. Inviting people over. Going to get my nails done with a friend. Stopping to talk rather than hurrying off. Planning a girls night out. Going to lunch. These things bring me the greatest pleasure.
Don’t get me wrong. I still work with a writing coach. I still post when I feel like it on this blog. It is important that I do this work and spend time on my passion for writing. But the key is not being attached to the results. Do I need this blog to be hugely popular in order to be happy?
Do I need to publish my book when it's done to make me happy?
Would those things be nice?
Damn straight they would.
But what do I know for a fact gives me happiness in my current life, as it stands? Writing this post is making me happy at this precise moment. It is an end unto itself. Puzzling over the New York Times article and wondering how it applies to my life gives me a sort of intellectual stimulation, which makes me feel good. Is that odd? Is it strange that this is enough, right here? Maybe so.
But why post it on the Internet for all of you to see? There must be some pleasure in sharing it. And there is, of course. I'd be a liar to say it isn't part of the whole thing. I enjoy your comments. I like seeing what your reactions are to what I have to say. Even more magical is if we connect. If you get it and say, “Ah yes, me too!” For a moment I am not alone in this vast universe of existential loneliness and despair. Okay, perhaps I'm exaggerating a bit, but it does feel good to connect. It’s nice to know I'm not alone with these thoughts. I assume there's some pleasure in it for you too, otherwise you wouldn't be here.
Do I need 100 people to connect? 1,000? 10,000? Or am I satisfied with 1? Oddly enough, it feels good to connect one-on-one, even if it is on the Internet. When I share a post on Facebook and my friends comment on it and laugh, it feels good. I don't really think it's a matter of numbers, but more a matter of quality.
So I left it all behind and I returned to a quiet blog with few comments. Familiar friends came and went.
And it made me smile.
This is enough for me, I've decided.
The article seems to suggest that I am an oddity:
“It makes sense. What do you post to Facebook? Pictures of yourself yelling at your kids, or having a hard time at work? No, you post smiling photos of a hiking trip with friends. You build a fake life — or at least an incomplete one — and share it. Furthermore, you consume almost exclusively the fake lives of your social media 'friends.' Unless you are extraordinarily self-aware, how could it not make you feel worse to spend part of your time pretending to be happier than you are, and the other part of your time seeing how much happier others seem to be than you?”
I must be extraordinarily self-aware because Facebook doesn’t make me feel bad. I’m aware that everyone’s lives are much more complicated than the glimpse we get in status updates. I know we all struggle. I know I struggle. I blog about it occasionally here. I see a therapist. I go to marriage counseling. I take an anti-depressant. I’m a work in progress. I suppose I don't experience any of this as "fake."
So maybe there’s hope for us all. This article was a nice reminder. It’s good to know what will yield happiness and what will not. It’s good to know that my instincts are right. It’s not the possessions I accumulate (although I do enjoy shoes). It’s not the amount of wealth I accumulate (although I am very fortunate, I know that). It’s not the popularity that I may or may not have (I have this little blog and I have a lot of Facebook friends). None of those things make me happy. I know this.
It’s the little moments. It’s when you leave a comment and I respond. It’s when we make each other laugh in a comment thread on Facebook. It’s when you come to dinner and I cook for you. It’s my writer’s group, gathered around the coffee table. It’s the friends I’ve made at my daughter’s preschool. It’s the friends I’ve had since high school, since my first teaching job, my first advertising gig … and the friends I have at my current ad agency. It’s when my husband and I get through a really tough marriage counseling session and we hug outside when it is over. It’s when my ten-year-old son tells me it’s been the best week of his summer because he spent it at home with me.
I may not be the most popular blogger. I may never publish a book. But when I die I'll know I led a good life. A meaningful life. And it’s because of all of you. All 3 of you. Or all 30 of you. The numbers never made a whit of difference. They may have given me a momentary high, but it quickly faded. I could either chase that high again and be deflated not to have attained it, or I could let go of the pursuit.
It’s nice to have this reminder. Every so often I think of quitting blogging, like so many of us do. But then I wonder why? It's here if I want it. But I am free to ignore it too. It requires nothing of me and yet it gives me pleasure when I want it. I must remember that, above all else. The next time I don't get very many comments or I see a blogger friend has been published on Huffington Post while I have not, I'll say:
"It's the connection, stupid!"
It always was and it always will be. If we can remind ourselves of that, we'll be much more happier for it. I just know it.