I once heard that life is about being dissatisfied. The thinking goes it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Dissatisfaction is what drives progress. Dissatisfaction with foraging led to agriculture. Dissatisfaction with the horse and buggy led to automobiles.
If that’s true, I have had a good run at chronic dissatisfaction (making me an engine of progress, I guess?). Growing up with the insecurities that poverty breeds, I made a habit early of imagining the day when things would get better. I made fitful strides toward happiness, but spent a lot of time noticing the gap between where I was and where I wanted to be. I never met a half empty glass I didn’t think was on the verge of shattering at any moment.
But now I’ve been alive long enough to see trends and notice progress in my life. And I can uncategorically say that this is, so far, one of the happiest years of my life. It may not be the best year, per se (although if it isn’t it’s pretty darn close) but it’s one of the years I’ve most given in to happiness and gratitude and, yes, satisfaction.
Case in point: this weekend. Yesterday, the day was filled with simple chores that made the day shine up like a new penny – bathing the dogs and then an afternoon playing with them before hanging a curtain rod and arranging decorations, finishing touches on my bedroom makeover. Then I watched silly animal YouTube videos with my kids and we giggled for an hour at howling cats and dogs that say, “I love you.” At night, I went to the theater with great company. After that, the night was topped off with a walk in the beautiful, balmy summer night.
This morning, I headed off to buy the New York paper that was supposed to be running a story about my book (the story got bumped to tomorrow). On the ride there I was overcome by the beautiful peace that slows time down, like when you’re out alone in a snow storm and the flakes almost seem to be making a sound, but it’s just a crystalline silence. This morning, instead of snow, the sun slanted in at an angle in my beautiful, small New Jersey town and flags fluttered peacefully in the breeze of the quiet main street. It was a little slice of heaven and for a moment my heart thrilled that I belonged here.
It was in that moment I realized I am living my dream. All the years of struggle and unhappiness, where the imaginary happy ending seemed improbable, had somehow, modestly and without drawing attention to itself, turned into a life lived on my terms. It is serene, beautiful and full of simple pleasures.
The feeling lingered and resurfaced as I went about my day. My lawn guy having inexplicably disappeared, I figured I’d tackle the mowing of my sloped lawn on my own (at this point a knee-high meadow). My lawn mower, inscrutable piece of machinery, decided that it wouldn’t cooperate. I reached out on my town’s Yahoo list and within the hour a neighbor had come over to give me a Lawnmower 101 class. (The issue was a clogged air filter). After I mowed the lawn, I set the sprinkler out to water it and my son and his friend jumped through it gleefully, their laughter echoing on my solitary block, sounding just like they did when they were little. It was the sound of pure, unselfconscious joy, two almost-twelve-year-old boys laughing through a sprinkler on a hot day. It filled me with pure happiness.
Satisfaction is surprising in its humility. It doesn’t come in the ways we think it might, behind the wheel of German engineering or on the arm of a guy with rock-hard abs. It can, but it is remarkably disconnected from the external trappings we’re told will bring it on. It is a secret sauce which, for many of us, cooks up very slowly, a mixture of learning to see the positive and of gratitude and of making the small changes that lead to the circumstances that feel good long term. When it shows up it’s easy to miss it, because it often comes on a simple Sunday morning while we’re making other plans.
The gratitude for the life I have is vast. For people watching me from the outside, I may not look so different than in the years when things were hard: same house, same kids (slightly older), same basic circumstances. The change is subtle, and it’s mostly on the inside, a kind of peace with myself. I’m sure I’m not done with my old companion, dissatisfaction, which has, in many ways, served me well. Dissatisfacton has driven me to endless searching, questioning and doing. It has made me the woman I am today. I am grateful for the fuel it provides.
I can still strive, but I can relax. And that feels glorious.