Monday, October 28, 2013

Contentment and how to get it

It's Fall: that time of year when the sun wakes up later and goes to bed earlier. I tend to do what my friend the sun does, so when he's a little depressed I get bummed out too. I try to use it to my advantage, though, and you can read all about that here. Sometimes it's hard and being happy is a choice. I think about contentment a lot on long runs... usually because I am the most content while I am running and I get sad when I realize that the feeling won't last.

During my last long run, I was thinking about a phenomenon that has become part of my life. When I didn't live by any mountains, I thought I would find happiness just by living close to them - that everything would be right in the world if I could wake up in the morning and gaze at jagged peaks on the horizon. After a year of living in the city of Denver I enjoyed riding my bike to work on the Cherry Creek bike path and catching glimpses of mountains, but I soon felt like it wasn't enough.

We decided to move to the base of Green Mountain in Lakewood and for a few weeks I was euphoric about having a backyard mountain. I would feel compelled to do two-a-days just because I couldn't get enough of it. But slowly, this creeping feeling has come back that if only I was further in the mountains, I would find happiness. I've started to think that maybe we should move to Evergreen or Conifer and then we would be surrounded by mountains but not too far from the city. The thing is, if we moved there, I would soon find myself feeling like we needed to move farther in to find happiness.

Fortunately, I'm married to a guy who doesn't really like to change. He hates moving and thinks it's important to stay rooted to a community. He loves the city and doesn't want to get too far from it. Without him I would be some hermit on a mountain. And then the next year I would be a hermit on another mountain. I would end up like the host of other 20-somethings who live their lives based on feeling instead of the knowledge that they have to endure times of unhappiness to really understand contentment. We are pretty much the song "Extraordinary Machine" by Fiona Apple. This is me: "I still only travel by foot and by foot it's a slow climb, but I'm good at being uncomfortable so I can't stop changing all of the time." And this is him: "He's no good at being uncomfortable so he can't stop staying exactly the same."

So I have a war within myself. Is it wrong to constantly want to be closer and closer to those majestic mountains that call to me? Surely I would never quite feel content, even if I lived in the heart of the San Juans (and there would certainly be costs like joblessness and loneliness). It made me think about the only part of the the Chronicles of Narnia that I really remember. At the end of The Last Battle, after Aslan has made all things right, he beckons the characters toward the mountains saying "Come further up, come further in." And as they move higher up into the mountains, there are more mountains to explore.

I think my longing is only natural. We, as humans, long for the place where all things are right. Life is a constant struggle and though that struggle refines us, we want the struggle to be over. By day, we dream of things that might be. We construct a future for ourselves and we yearn for the moment when we can say that we've arrived at the place of happiness. But when you get there, will you really be happy? I think that as long as we pretend that we can happen upon contentedness, it will never be found. The thing is, it is something you can choose for yourself in this moment. Yes, right now.

I've been reading Killian's book, Run or Die, and I love how vulnerable it is. Killian struggles with this phenomenon, too! People like me don't win races, but we may dream of winning races and we idolize the people who do. After Killian achieved the success he dreamed of, he says, "The moment you surpass the people you idolize and become your own idol, the magic of sport is lost. Idols are reference points that act to mark out a path, to help you know what you have to work at and fight for so that you can emulate what they have done. And when you have succeeded, when there is only one person you can surpass, and that person is yourself, it means you have understood nothing." He goes on to say basically the whole point I've been trying to make. "The winner isn't the strongest, but rather the one who truly enjoys what he is doing."

Wow, after that I don't really know what else to say. Obviously we enjoy doing some things more than others and obviously there are some circumstances that are too hard to be content over. But I have to keep telling myself the answer isn't to just pick up and start over. If I start over, I will just end up in the same place, as if I had learned nothing.

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