It's Okay to be Content with an Ordinary Life

Saturday, March 12, 2016

This post is inspired by two things:

  • Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You, a heartbreaking novel about a despairing quadriplegic and the caregiver who endeavors to prove to him that life is still worth living, even though it no longer bears any resemblance to the wild, all-out, risk-filled, adventure-seeking days of his past. 
  • Ben Rector’s “Crazy” — an anthem to all things normal and a cheeky antidote for the feeling of insecurity that surfaces when we’re overwhelmed by songs about “goin’ to da club” and photos of friends on social media who perpetually seem to be having the time of their lives.  Listen to it here.

I’ve often wondered if I’m having enough fun.  If I’m living up these twenty-something years the way everyone tells me that I should, by going to clubs and drinking myself silly while my liver can still handle it, and embarking on the spontaneous, YOLO-worthy adventures there are allegedly a surfeit of in this world.

This is a familiar anxiety for me, one that befriended me when I refused time and again in college to stay out until 2am at crowded, smoke-filled venues, where creepy guys would try to grind on me and I would have to feign energy well after my 10pm bedtime.  It took me years of wrestling with my preference to stay in and read a book or watch my Gilmore Girls DVDs for the hundredth time before I finally began to own my introversion and the fact that the loud living everyone else seemed to prize just wasn’t something that would satisfy me.  I’ve always been more of a “dinner and drinks and intimate conversation” kinda gal.

…And yet I could never entirely escape the nagging feeling that I was doing something wrong.  Still can’t.  Inundated as we are with flashy social media updates in this day and age, it’s easy to feel that the collective “everyone else” is making memories I’m not.  That they’ll have actual stories about their many shenanigans to tell their grandchildren someday.  That I’m quite simply not doing enough.  FOMO (that’s “fear of missing out” for those of you not as down with that youthful lingo as I like to pretend to be) is apparently a real thing.

And this is where I have to politely tell myself to hold up.

We know that most status updates posted to Facebook and most carefully filtered photos added to Instagram are fantasies; they’re not our real lives so much as they’re how we wish that others would perceive them.  At the heart of so many social media interactions is that primitive, enduring human desire to compare ourselves to others as a means of proving our worth.  It’s a desire that was probably ingrained into the human psyche way back when hunting the biggest animal meant one person’s clan had a better chance of surviving than another’s; was adapted and adjusted to the school environment thousands of years later, when grades were a means of validation and “What’dja get?” became the refrain of students who jockeyed to know where they stood; and now, in adulthood, manifests itself in the “Who has the best life on Facebook?” competition.  

We know that most people’s lives are about as crazy as Ben Rector describes them: dinners with friends that might just include appetizers if they’re feeling particularly wild, hitting Bed Bath and Beyond after work for some essentials, watching Netflix, going to sleep at 9 and waking up at 8:30 in the morning, completely refreshed.

And still we feel we should be going crazy!  Living life to the fullest!  Late nights and wild parties!  Gap years spent backpacking through the U.S. or touring Europe, having outrageous adventures!  

In Me Before You, Will Traynor, a quadriplegic, expresses his disapproval regarding his able-bodied caregiver Louisa’s contentment with living her entire life in her English hamlet.  He tells her, “I see all this talent, all this… energy and brightness, and… potential.  And I cannot for the life of me see how you can be content to live this tiny life.  This life that will take place almost entirely within a five-mile radius and contain nobody who will ever surprise you or push you or show you things that will leave your head spinning and unable to sleep at night” (Moyes 205).

His words echo many familiar sentiments on the subject of living life fully, among them, these two that spring most immediately to mind:

“To live is the rarest thing in the world.  Most people exist, that is all.”  — Oscar Wilde

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”  — Neale Donald Walsch

It’s not that I disagree with these words.  I do believe that in many cases, the only way to grow as a human being is to explore and venture away from the familiar.  To take risks.  Those risks just have to mean something to you.  So I’m going to pause here to add my own words of wisdom to this mix:

“To live fully is to live life in a way that you find fulfilling.”

Not in a way you simply tolerate, or move through on autopilot each day.  To live fully is to live with intention, but it doesn’t matter whether what you intend is to go buy a new book you’re anxious to read at the bookstore, clean your bathroom as a way of showing some love to your home, write some poetry in a quiet corner of your house, go to a movie with a friend on a Saturday afternoon, or sit on the couch with a loved one eating pizza and watching Netflix.  So long as the things you choose invigorate you, or challenge you in ways you find significant, you don’t need to subscribe to the hype of a “crazy” life. 

So I think one of the reasons Will’s words resonate so much in Moyes’ novel is that Louisa is not really living in a way she finds fulfilling.  The readers are privy to her latent desires throughout the book, even if she doesn’t completely realize herself what she wants: an education so she can pursue a career that will allow her to move out of her parents’ house, and freedom from her stagnant and dissatisfying romantic relationship, for starters.  And if she were to achieve these things (which she begins to before the end of the book), but still not quite have the sort of hair-raising adventures Will was used to, I have a feeling his disapproval would abate.

It is absolutely one hundred percent okay to be content with an ordinary life.  So don’t feel guilty for not subscribing to anyone else’s ideas of how life should be lived.  Just be sure you’re living in a way that satisfies you, in a way that really and truly makes you euphoric to be alive, and you’ll be set.  


Work Cited (because I was an English major and old habits die hard):

Moyes, Jojo.  Me Before You.  New York: Penguin, 2012. Print.

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