How easy is it for you to smile? Can you manage a fake one? Do you need someone’s help? Go on and give it a shot.
A few mornings ago, I looked in the mirror; it was my birthday. I’m 49 – a little older and a lot wiser with still lots to learn. Ok, maybe ‘learn’ is not the right sentiment; maybe ‘make sense of’ is. In any event, I think the older I get, the more I scratch my head over life, which no doubt might be the reason for my thinning hair! Still, compared with other male members of my family, past and present, I still have plenty of hair on my head, so I really shouldn’t complain.
Indeed, I have a lot to smile about and day by day I try really really hard to remind myself of that. If you blink though, you might miss it.
A Word On Birthdays
There’s not really much to say about a birthday. In many ways, it’s just another day. The argument can be made that it’s a reason to celebrate – and celebrating anything at any time is always a good idea. Yet, there are 364 days to seek out some justification for cracking a smile. Perhaps one’s birthday should serve as just that; a reminder to smile the rest of the year. And, for some of us, we need as many reminders as we can get, especially as we get older.
I don’t mean to wax morose here, but there is a certain tragic inevitability of our existence: it ends. Each of us in his or her own way struggles to reach beyond mortality. Some do so through their creativity, some through their children, and some through making an investment in others. For many, the acceptance of our ultimate fate becomes a cause célèbre to rail against. Tragically, the war against ageing is an uphill battle of course, and one that will most likely leave you buried somewhere on said hill.
Growing old gracefully is another matter altogether. It’s something I heartily advocate because … well, maybe because it’s just easier. We all say we want the ‘easy life’, but very few of us actually seek it out. Instead, we beat our heads against the wall battling birthdays and the onset of arthritis, incontinence, senility and polyester.
For many, fearing the passing years is just another bad habit that distracts you from the ‘here and now’. It forces you to look forward and tremble, affecting your every action and thought in the present. It coerces you into making poor decisions that will most certainly affect the rest of your life.
Screw The Prize
As you troll your way through life, how many times has someone encouraged you to ‘keep your eye on the prize’? Do you really have any idea what that ‘prize’ is? Does life has a prize? Is it grand? If so, what are the prize rules? Who or what represents the awarding bodies? Can the prize be cashed in? What do you get for winning 2nd place?
To the above questions, there are many who are more than willing to provide answers. The religious, of course, talk of the ‘world to come’, heaven and hell. The agnostic are too busy trying to disprove the religious to really offer a credible answer, and certainly not one that is particularly enervating. It goes without saying that the apathetic simply don’t care to comment, and similarly the party never ends for the hedonistic inclined who may just ‘shoot the messenger’ just for kicks (read: lulz).
Me? Well I say screw the prize. If one does exist, it most likely is just an elusive carrot hanging on the end of a stick, always just out of reach. By the same token, if there really is no prize, then ideally there is no contest. This latter concept is more appealing to me since I hate to think that life is nothing more than a sick game of sorts in which there are winners and losers.
Remember the line ‘all men are created equal’? Well, if life is to be lived chasing a supposed prize, then the related competition suggests Orwellian overtones of ‘some animals are more equal than others’. As such, the measure of a man would boil down to the question ‘are you a winner or a loser’? To me, this question is more than just moot; it’s downright stupid.
Down Life’s Crapper
At some point, I think it’s important that we reappraise what it is that ‘life’ means to us, because since the advent of money, or possibly the industrial revolution, our priorities have become screwed up. Living the ‘good life’ has become synonymous with ‘keeping up with Joneses’ and working our brains out to consume mass quantities of luxury items. We don’t appreciate the trip anymore, only the destination. Our existence has become ‘heavy’, weighed down with the material, while our dreams have become jaded by the accumulation of more of the same. In fact, we are no longer consumed only with winning, we lust after all the trimmings and trappings that come with it. Our new life mission: in the end, the one with the most wins.
It’s amazing how corroded and eroded our humanity has become. Today, we claim to ‘shoot for the stars’, yet we rarely achieve mediocrity. The ‘good life’ seems to exist only in persuasive magazines and advertisements, and of course come with a heady price. We are conditioned to believe that everyone is entitled to ‘the next best thing’, leaving us unsatisfied with what we already have. In many cases, we are offered credit to obtain that which is beyond our means, leaving us saddled with debt, as we sell ourselves into a form of slavery to banksters and Big Business interests.
Today, we no longer work for a better life; we work to keep our heads above polluted waters. This vicious circle of work and consumption is relentless in keeping us trapped in a never-ending whirlpool that threatens to drown us, flushing us right out of existence.
A Bohemian Rhapsody
I’ve always heard that going through detox is no small endeavor. Yet, in many ways that’s exactly what we need to rid ourselves of the industrial and commercial waste we’ve defiled ourselves with. For our own sake, we need to break with the ‘golden calves’ we’ve been brainwashed to follow and re-embrace the idea that life is not a competition. We need to stop devaluing our existence with such ideas.
Regardless of what we’ve been told or taught, life is to be lived and even enjoyed as much as possible. Happiness, fulfillment and satisfaction are not commodities sold at Walmart or even Lord & Taylor department stores; they can neither be paid for in cash nor charged on a credit card. They are only found in our shared humanity.
We should therefore embrace that which makes us human: our creativity, our art, our sense of adventure and our passions. It’s these traits which I believe have sustained us and help us to thrive in the face of adversity throughout time, even despite our less than virtuous penchants.
It should go without saying that the pursuit of happiness and ‘the good life’ should not require exertion, struggle, or duress. ‘Take it easy’ should be a preventative prescription for life, not a post melt-down commentary. Life should not be a rat race, a means to an end, or some kind of spiritualistic test of one’s blind faith. There should be no pressure to conform to or follow any particular political or authoritarian vision. The establishment should come tumbling down if it doesn’t serve our needs.
At the personal level, the time has come when we simply must accept who we are as individuals and understand that if there is something larger than our own existence, it’s just the existence of others. We need to acknowledge that what we all share in common is our uniqueness.
Independently, we all possess redeeming features that someone, if not ourselves, can make use of or be inspired by. We therefore need to give of ourselves freely because the only way we can really reap satisfaction or fulfillment for our efforts, or even our existence, is in the light of another’s smile.
As such, our zest for living the ‘good life’ begins and ends with the following principles:
- Be unconventional.
- Be eccentric.
- Be true to yourself.
- Live and let live.
- Seek out those who are like-minded and share ideas.
- Do onto others as you would have others do onto you.
- You can help yourself, but don’t take too much.
- Don’t forget to SMiLE.