One can never have too many socks.
The reason that I've instructed myself to examine my emotional state, besides my persistent need to examine my emotional state of a daily basis, is because I've noticed a strange pattern among everyone I've chatted with about my upcoming graduate studies and teaching: they seem to correlate my success in academia as a victory in a personal happiness project.
Oh you've been given a teaching assistantship and you're on your way to money and publications? You must be very happy!
And I am. Sometimes. I'm grateful for this amazing, unlikely opportunity. I'm relieved that my late nights cursing frat boys beside me as I strain over an essay have amounted to something tangible, to something with which I can impress my family. I have spurts of ecstasy, I have fleeting moments of relief, as I'm perfectly aware that continuing down a straightforward path to success is what should result in profound, full-body happiness.
And yet. Happiness sits in its own corner, taunting me.
The more traditional success I achieve, the more I realize just how disjointed from happiness, from satisfaction this success actually is. It's almost as though I realize I've been in a twenty-two year conditioning experiment in which I was told that in order to be something, I must do something.
I've done a lot of things. I've been fearful and anxious for almost the whole of it.
Yes, in order to be successful, you must achieve success. But in order to be happy you must achieve________? What?
It's arbitrary. It's vague. I could be professor of the century and still find myself reaching for that feeling of satisfaction, of having enough.
(I suppose I have just reached the "duh" moment in which I realize why capitalism functions so well in our society. But I digress).
Between my two brothers and myself, I am the kid who hasn't strayed from the traditional path to success. In a household that prides itself on ambition and drive towards that thing, that thing that makes you impressive at dinner parties and stiff interviews, it's been challenging for my brothers to be recognized as successful in the sense that they are passionate, they are wicked smart, they take great joy in the work that they produce, in the conversations they have. They are happy.
I would even go so far as arguing that they have strayed from the traditional path, and they are happier than me. *
In a world in which my drive to achieve has been largely led by crippling fear of failure and disappointment, there hasn't been much room for happiness. Instead, there's been room for anxiety. For disgust when I don't get that A. For disdain. For breakdowns.
Is this what success looks like?
I have a distinct memory of my father asserting that he just wanted his son to be happy. He wanted to allow himself to reach his full potential by demonstrating his passion, his drive, his intellect in his academic and professional work. This is a perfectly valid concern for a parent to have.
But I also think it's time to change the metric with which we judge success and happiness.
When we live with this vision of happiness, we will constantly be reaching until we are satisfied. There will always be more to achieve. There will always be more ways to prove ourselves, more articles to publish, more money to make.
That's not to say that ambition is pointless. But it is not what allows internal satisfaction.
It's time to embrace the fact that success, that happiness, has infinite paths.
*I just want to clarify that I have never, for a second, been ungrateful for the opportunities I've been given. I'm extremely lucky, and I plan on utilizing my move to Colorado as a means to begin my search for personal happiness. :-)