If/When... Then? Nope!

3 years ago
If I could just lose ten pounds…
If I could just make more money…
When I get a new job…
When I buy that…
If I could just go to…
When I graduate…
When I get married…
If they would just…
When I move…
…then I will be happy.
That’s the idea, right? When this thing happens or if that thing could be different, THEN everything will be good. Somehow, almost magically, when this thing happens then everything is going to be right in your world.
“Wherever you go, there you are.”
My dad used to (still does) say that a lot. This repetition got it deeply ingrained in my head a long time ago, like a very well worn and tended path. From a fairly young age, I knew what it meant, but it wasn’t until I got a little older that I really started to understand it (and repeat it over and over again to at least one of my long-suffering nephews).
Contrary to what 7 year old me thought, the original source of the quote isn’t my Dad. It is actually a quote from the Buddha. Though some days the two can bear a striking resemblance, my father is not the Buddha. Facial hair and appreciation for cake aside (Buddha looks like he would have been a cake guy), I don’t think that my dad has the temperament. My dad is where I learned to rant epically.
Still, though, it takes wisdom to recognize wisdom, and my dad is pretty good at that… even though I still take issue with him telling and retelling the wise story of the Scorpion which I know for a fact he just got from an episode of Star Trek Voyager. (I probably shouldn’t, I have recognized that I get a LOT of what and how I think from the wisdom of Gene Roddenberry and the other great writers who followed in his footsteps… but, still, I can’t relate to you the scene when John (husband) and I were going through all of the Voyager episodes again and, lo and behold, there was the story my dad tells WAY too often.)
But, yeah, he’s wise anyway.
“Every wakeful step, every mindful act is the direct path to awakening. Wherever you go, there you are.”
That is the complete quote.
What it means is this – whatever you get, wherever you go, whatever you do, unless you’re addressing the root causes of what is making you feel like you need something ELSE, you’re just going to wind up back in the same place in your head.
(At least that is ONE of the meanings. The Buddha said a lot of stuff and it was pretty multilayered. I don’t think he was so in to expounding on things. Maybe if he had had a blog…)
It is very rare for one thing, one event, or one life change to completely change your experience. There isn’t anything that is going to suddenly make your life better and more satisfying. Even a total spiritual awakening isn’t something that is going to change everything, at least not forever. Maybe for a little while. Maybe that object makes you happy for a little while, but we tend to grow accustomed to most things and start to take them for granted. Maybe getting married will make you happier, but if you weren’t in the right headspace before then adding another person to the mix isn’t likely to make everything all better – and it DEFINITELY won’t if your whole goal is to make that happen. (Certain people can greatly enhance our lives, but if that isn’t there before the wedding day the odds are slim to none that it will be there the day after, let alone years in or the times when life inevitably gets challenging.)
You know how, when you have a bad cold and can’t breathe through your nose, you think, “Great googly moogly! How could I have taken the ability to breathe through my nose for granted? Oh, dear nose, once we get through this, I will NEVER take you for granted again!” And do you keep that oath? Or one or two days after you get better do you promptly forget the gloriousness of the simple act of breathing through your nose?
It’s the same deal with clean running water at a temperature that you can easily modify. Right there, there are four separate GREAT things – the water is clean, it runs IN YOUR HOUSE (and in multiple places!), it can range in temperature according to your preference, and that preference is very easily modified. It’s a damned marvel – but how often do you think about it? Remember that cause I told you about? Soap for South Sudan, as delivered by the clean water charity Drop in the Bucket? Do you have any idea how happy entire communities are to have ONE working well with clean water? Seriously, a staggeringly large portion of the world’s population can only dream of the luxuries of water that we take for granted every day.
And, again, it’s the same deal with our mobile phones, televisions, computers, camera’s, internet access, and WiFi.
Crimeny! Think about WiFi! I spent most of an entire post last week in a rant about the fact that my WiFi wasn’t operating at peak efficiency. Not that it wasn’t working at all, not that I had to actually plug in my computer to a hard line (note to self, ask husband if the cables I have are adaptable to my Mac or if I need an adapter…), that it WASN’T PERFECT! I am transcribing the thoughts that I have onto “pages” that have no physicality using a program that not only did I not code, I have no idea HOW it was coded, and very little idea how to code in general. I will then “copy and paste” all of these thoughts with the click of a few buttons to another medium using WiFi which, for all I know, consists invisible magic fairy dust, onto a platform that will store it “in the cloud” (read: “magic vapor”). I will schedule it to be released to a website (fairy house) that will then be accessible to all of you ALL OVER THE WORLD in a matter of SECONDS! Can I get a hallelujah!?! (I will also take a WTF.) Yet I was complaining about it being a little spotty last week.
(You know who doesn’t take WiFi for granted? The kids trying to get through school in this country without home internet access. We spend so much time talking about the importance of STEM (or STEAM, which I prefer) education, but we fail to provide universal access to one of the core resources to large numbers of kids who could use it to make a better world… but more on that in a future post.)
Look, my point is this, we quickly take things for granted. So that one wonderful thing that you want that you think will make everything all better… probably isn’t going to make it even seem better for all that long. To paraphrase a much better author than myself, the fault, dear friends, is not in our stars, but in our selves. It’s not, in most cases, what we have, what we can get, or what we can change in our circumstance that will make things better for us – what will make things better for us is when we learn to appreciate that which we already have.
And here is the secret idea that lay beneath all of this – all of the if’s and when’s REALLY led to one idea, one goal -- the goal of being happier. Think about it. Follow your if’s and when’s through all the way. If I lose ten pounds then I will be healthier, more attractive, and people will like me more… which will make me happier. If I had more money, I wouldn’t have to worry about my financial security, which would make me happier. If I bought this thing or took this trip, it would make me happier. If I could smite my enemies, they wouldn’t be around and that would make me happier…
Okay, the last one may have been a little off track for MOST of you, but the point remains the same. The goal is happiness. Happiness, though, is something that you need to practice getting to. It’s about shifting your focus, being mindful, giving the benefit of the doubt, being grateful, appreciating what you have already… all of these things take practice, but they are a lot more lasting than any single thing or change.

If… When… then? Nope. And if we don’t learn to see that when we’re doing it then my dad is right… wherever we are, that’s where we’ll still be.


This post was originally published on April 10, 2014 on the blog "I Try: The Additive Property of Happiness". To see it in it's original habitat, click here.

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