I was recently talking to a friend from work and our conversation had me comparing my life to his. Comparison is definitely the thief of happiness, but sure enough, it can be a great teacher too.
Initially I criticized his overly structured almost militaristic approach to life. He has a very particular way of doing things and rarely strays from that structure. From the same meals he packs for work each day, to the predictable ways he spends his evening hours with his family, to praying at night before he goes to bed…everything is planned; like clock work. Certain hours are allotted to particular tv shows, a family bike ride while walking the dog is always an hour, and social visits have to be planned well in advance. In his world, everything has it’s place. Teetering off course for him, is rarely an option. Maybe this sort of planning and structure is a natural by product of having a family with children? Maybe children need that routine, but do adults? This sort of structure naturally makes me cringe. A rigid and ritualistic approach to life seemingly feels flat, boring and burdensome…but the more we talked, the more I started to see it’s value.
Comparatively, he seems “happier” than me. He goes to sleep each night having checked the boxes he easily accomplished for the day. He doesn’t have the same, “What is the purpose of my life” kinda questions that I often grapple with…He’s in more of a “this is my life” kinda place, which is really just an accumulation of all of his checks… It seems that his commitment to his daily life routines actually creates the conditions in which he can be most satisfied and happy. Maybe his boundaries, actually work like fencing; harnessing and penning in blessings, satisfaction and happiness in a way he can easily count, engage with and grasp?
For some reason, I’ve always believed that freedom and choice are important in life. I couldn’t wait for those opportunities of free expression and unlimited choice growing up. I believed that having lots of room to move and tons of blank space would create more possibility for creativity, dreams and unpredictability. But is idle time the “Devil’s workshop”? I’ve always rebelled against too many rules, believing them to be limiting. I mean, I don’t naturally want to commit and fill my days with particular structure, because what if I don’t feel like doing that tomorrow? What if I change my mind? What if I’d rather do something different? Yes I am a creature of habit and have certain routines that I prefer, but nothing is written in stone. In my plan is always the option of choosing something different.
The last time I lived under a particular set of rules was probably back when I was a kid living in my parent’s house; when I had to follow what they prescribed as the “right” way to do things and laid out the expectations I had to heed. But as an adult I don’t think I’ve ever really established my own life’s rule and expectations… and maybe it’s that absence which lends to me not being able to identify future goals and purpose - I can’t check off the boxes I haven’t already identified.
Quite frankly, I’ve always just done what I felt. My underline drive isn’t commitment or discipline, it’s emotion. And maybe that’s the fallacy of adulthood, this freedom of choice to do whatever I want? Could this abundance of choice and my non committal approach actually be causing dissatisfaction? Could the rules I’ve been rebelling against actually be the secret to success and true freedom; because isn’t there more freedom in satisfaction and daily arrival than constantly searching, striving and journeying?
But having said all this, what does that even mean? What does it look like to create structure and discipline in life? How do families create that structure when they don’t have children forcing them into it? And what steadfast principles do you choose and base your daily life rules on, were we suppose to just build off of the ones we grew up with, or do we choose them as adults? Do I have the tools to build my own version of fencing when there isn’t really anything marking our property lines of where the posts are supposed to be put in?
I don’t know…(insert confused, hands up in the air shrug emoji here)….maybe.