“Don’t waste your will bes on wishes,” I tossed out like a throwaway thing, a disposable accident of advice I probably say stream-of-conscious style without really paying attention to or even noticing, as my brain often moves swifter than my lips can understand. I imagine it’s mostly nonsensical, mostly bin-worthy and hardly worth a second thought, but not this one, I realized, not this little nugget that I don’t know the origins to.
We’ve been told since infancy that “comparison is the thief of joy,” and we’ve probably been told it from a dozen people in a dozen different situations as we’ve navigated the minefield that is adolescence. The years around our development (though do we ever stop developing?) are treacherous in their poignancy, the lessons imparted are those that will never leave, and new studies are even suggesting that the people we are, at a foundational level, when we are seventeen and eighteen are essentially who we will always be — only the decorations will change, the extraneous beliefs or ideas — and it’s during this time we probably hear more than any other thing these bite-sized bits of wisdom.
The moment we start comparing our lives to those of another, it all falls apart, and joy is sacrificed. Isn’t this what we’re told?
I realized something though, when I probably crossed the line into unsolicited advice territory with Lady G by telling her not to waste her will bes on wishes: Comparison that robs our joy doesn’t just apply when we’re comparing what we do not have with what someone else might, or when we feel our own lives lacking in juxtaposition with another’s, no, it burgles our happiness even when we do it to ourselves, even when we are perfectly happy but find ourselves slipping down that slope of wishing things could just be a little bit different.
Raise your hands silently to yourselves if you’ve ever been in that position. You’re standing overlooking some beautiful vista and you find yourself thinking, “Ah, this would be so much more beautiful if it was just a bit sunnier!” You’re wrapping up the final touches on a beautiful dinner (Lady G, this one is aimed right at you, to avoid any feelings of “is he talking about me?” you might be entertaining…yes, yes I am) and you’re just about to serve it when that nagging feeling creeps in, “ahh this might be just a bit burned/undercooked/overflavored/underflavored/softer/firmer/sweeter/less sweet/prettier/whatever-er?”
It’s a normal thing, all of our hands should be raised, and while we shouldn’t feel shame for this, we should at least be mindful of it, we should at least mourn the joy we’ve sacrificed at the altar of wishing.
We wish because we convince ourselves that no matter how good things are, they could be just a little bit better if — what comes beyond the if could be minute or monumental — but every single time we do it we chip away just a little bit more at the miraculous majesty of that moment, that happiness, that settled piece of contentedness that we’re all striving for every day.
Just a few days left for this first month of twelve, and as I said at the turn of the year, I wanted the first month to be full of soft reminders that we can make big changes if we do so in small steps. To change a thing in a meaningful way we cannot in one leap, we cannot quit a habit cold turkey and expect it to stay away, no. It’s the little bits that become bigger bits, those bigger bits hanging onto other bigger bits and turning into massive chunks. Gather enough massive chunks and I’ll be damned, ol’ Sam Cooke was right, a change is gonna come.
The reminder here, said a few times now just so it really does stick, is that comparison IS the thief of joy, but dammit, that applies when the thing you’re comparing is already a joyful one. We’re wasting so many beautiful ‘will bes’ on wishes, now, always, and it’s time we stopped. It’s ok to sit in a moment and love it for what it is, precisely and exactly, and celebrate it as is, precisely and exactly, without wishing it was something else, without focusing a single drop of attention on what it could be if only, if only.
Tell the If Only’s to go F themselves, and tell them it often.
Kurt Vonnegut, a font of wisdom in more ways than I could ever even pretend to understand or aim for, hit the nail on the head in his book If This Isn't Nice, What Is?: Advice for the Young (if you’ve not yet read, I fully encourage you to do so) when he spoke about exactly this. He said, better than I ever could:
“My Uncle Alex, who is up in Heaven now, one of the things he found objectionable about human beings was that they so rarely noticed it when times were sweet. We could be drinking lemonade in the shade of an apple tree in the summertime, and Uncle Alex would interrupt the conversation to say, "If this isn't nice, what is?"
So I hope that you will do the same for the rest of your lives. When things are going sweetly and peacefully, please pause a moment, and then say out loud, "If this isn't nice, what is?”
If this isn’t nice, what is? Ask yourself this every single time you feel the urge to compare to some other version of nice you swear is just around the corner if you could only do some iteration of some thing that probably doesn’t exist anyways.
Our joy is stolen, more often by our own refusal to just love what is than anyone else’s success, and the comparison we probably fall victim to more than any other is not that to those around us, but to some imaginary alternative version in some parallel perfect dimension. It doesn’t exist friends, and dammit, even if it did, it ain’t this one anyway.
Love what is, love what will be, love what it can’t be, but love it all the same. There’s a theme here, a pattern that’s emerged after years of writing this Signal Fire, and it always comes back to it: Love, in all its forms. Love.
If that isn’t it, what is?
Our joy is stolen
when wishes cloud our will bes,
stay and love what is.
Song of the Week
Without you, this place goes dark. Help keep the Signal Fire lit!