Here in the land of opportunity we’re said to enjoy a slew of unalienable rights; we begin paying lip service to them in elementary school, reciting words before we know their meanings: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
But invoking any two of these rights often renders the third irrelevant, elusive, unattainable. Like zombies we honor soldiers who die for patriotic causes; yet we find far less “support” for those who dare to live by them. A recent study shows that on average Americans spend three hours a day procrastinating at work. The main reasons they cite for wasting time are being bored, not having enough to do, and feeling underpaid and/or unappreciated.
Boredom not withstanding, these men and women are reaping the benefits of two-thirds of American dream. They earn enough money to put food on the table (“life”), and I suppose the fact that they’re not technically required to work makes them something like free (“liberty”). But for most Americans “the pursuit of happiness” poops out well shy of happiness itself.
Sure buying new toys is fun as is playing with them–to say nothing of the shear exhilaration one must feel upon driving the faster car, buying his wife the bigger diamond or boobs. But is that all we’re really here for–to accumulate flashier trinkets than the have-nots next door?
Sorry, but if I’m expected to surrender 40 hours a week for the rest of my life to some mind-numbing job in some dead end career that sucks away all of my spirit & ambition & creativity, I need a better reason than the ones currently being offered.
To me the thought of a 9-to-5 job is the antithesis of life, liberty, and happiness. The price, as it stands now, is just too high. I lose more than I’d gain, and I’ve always been a really sore loser! I can’t & won’t do it.
But why not? Why can’t I suck it up and join the rat-race? Surely I could acquire the wit and charisma necessary to give some happy help-desk agent a run for his money. Maybe, if I found the right asses and chapped my lips upon them, I could even slither into middle management and negotiate my way to a respectable benefits package. Why not throw my hat into that ring, give up this scholarly horseshit and actually “contribute to society”?
Often I ask myself these very questions, if only because it’s one I can’t now answer in a way that relieves discomfort for those who are emotionally, personally, and/or familially invested in me. Why can’t I bring myself to that place where everyone else seems to live? It’s only eight hours a day–why can’t I shut off that part of my brain that dreams and that part of my heart that believes, and just sit quietly, mindlessly and heartlessly at some desk somewhere doing my boss’s work to make his boss’s money? Why am I so inconveniently stubborn in my outright refusal to sell myself in this manner?
Can I blame it on my A.D.D.? Is it really a “problem”? And if so, is it really my problem? What if those without A.D.D. are the ones with the real problem? What if the whole world suffers from a screwy brain disorder where everything gets flipped around backwards so that some corporation, for the right price, can purchase permission to insert corporate aims where its individual employees once had unique goals of their own? What if the only people who are immune to this widespread “aspiration deficit disorder” are the ones for whom labels and learning disabilities have been contrived?
It’s not the requirement of being surrounded daily by brainwashed passionless nincompoops that would do me in. What makes the thought of working for some corporate, capitalist cause I don’t believe in absolutely unbearable is the opportunity cost. By wasting energy on one task, I forfeit my capacity to make good on another. Imagine you were told that you had to work out for eight hours a day at the gym, completely busting your ass. In return for your troubles you got some snazzy gold star, but didn’t reap the benefits of having spent all day at the gym. Instead, you got fatter, lazier. And some other guy vicariously got in shape based on the fact that YOU had exercised.
Of course, at the end of the workday you too can make the decision to get in shape on your own behalf. Or you can become a “weekend warrior.” But who wants to work the same muscles on your “day off” that you exerted all week at work. You need to rest them, otherwise you’ll have a terrible workout on Monday when you go back to exercising for your boss.
That’s how I feel about my brain. If I spend all my time applying it to corporate interests, where will I find the time or energy to push it for my own purposes?
I’ve never in my life met a person from whom I couldn’t learn something. Every one of us has something special and unique to give, and yet so few of us ever end up finding out what exactly that gift is. The old ‘Back to the Future’ maxim that “you can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it” sounds pretty cool when you’re five; but for most of us this shiny happy quotation slowly begins to fizzle during our teen years and ultimately proves to be total bullshit. The practicalities of life block the paths that lead us where we wanted to go. Formerly ambitious individuals run out of money or time, or they lose their capacity to dream.
Absent the adrenalin rush of hope, many of us never realize those lofty goals our ancestors set forth centuries ago on our behalves. We achieve life and usually some form of liberty only once we stop pursuing happiness with the childlike fervor we inherited from after-school assemblies and hip PG-13 movies. The lucky ones waste away at boring desk jobs, having had the good sense to ditch their dreams while there still was time to enter rat races. Those less fortunate are the dreamers who hang on, waiting too long for the big break that never comes. By the time they realize the land of opportunity has no intention of making good on its mythical promises, often there’s nothing left but bitchwork for them to do.
This is when Tylenol is swallowed; when wrists bleed; when thick ropes squeeze windpipes.
Or at least that’s what I used to think–that people who lost their sense of purpose continued asking “what’s the point?” until eventually they realized there wasn’t one and called off the search. But now I know they prefer to keep breathing. I walk around in the world and I watch them, these soulless human beings who long ago traded in passion for borrowed/rented stability. And they’ve all found loopholes, little tricks so their lives seem less trivial. Some of them pretend to feel almost relieved that all their suffocating dreams finally choked and died off one by one. Its more comfortable for them to live without purpose; or maybe that’s just what “growing up” entails–lingering in limbo between living and death like braindead car crash victims with purpling lips and plugged in machine lungs.
Upon hearing me express these ideas, non-dreamers may moan from their lifelong deathbeds:
To which I offer the standard response I reserve for anyone who redefines unpleasant adjectives to avoid looking in mirrors:
What’s Gruesome & Morbid is to lug yourself through life as if you’ve already died.
What’s Depressing & Cynical is to see the world as an object that does not change.
When did it become sufficient merely to romanticize the pursuit of happiness; to know it only vicariously, through Will Smith movies, but not firsthand? Whose idea was it to canonize all those great minds that once thought outside the box while somehow forgetting to emulate them? Why recite “sacred” words in the first if the point was never to let them inspire us?
What’s Negative & Pessimistic is only being willing and able to see things as they are. For me to speak instead of how things can be & should be & WILL be–that’s radically optimistic.
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