There’s a sentimental old ballad from the sixties performed by Peggy Lee called Is That All There Is? In it she sings about the disappointments of childhood, the heartbreak of young love and the grim adult realization that the things we strive for in life rarely turn out as planned. Even the notion of having it all conjures a spoiled kid surrounded by so many toys that she’s too busy clutching them to actually play. Full disclosure: I’m a born and raised Methodist turned wannabe Buddhist. I dabble more than I practice, but every now and then a grain of that ancient wisdom seeps into my thick skull. Here’s a life-changing thought: What if we already have it all?
Beyond cars, homes, careers, handbags, death and taxes there is only the spirit, immutable and ungrasping. Everything else is on loan to us, our bodies included. The cultural conversation about having it all is necessary and real, especially because it starts to examine that age-old divide between the ‘haves and have nots’.
There’s no question that material wealth, race and class frame the debate. One woman frets about whether she can afford a holiday in Bali, while the other stretches a single income to feed a familty of four.
When I’m not pondering cultural issues for HelloBeautiful, I create ad campaigns for a living. It’s my job to convince people that the latest beauty cream/mini van/pasta sauce is the next step to personal fufilment. Buy this and your life will change for the better. I spent the summer in Singapore working on a beauty campaign that promised a better life through whiter, wrinkle-free skin. (I know.)But maybe the obsession with posessions and status is really just a postponement of death. Between work, family and the time-sucking labor of shopping, there’s simply no time to die. In a revealing article The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, a palliative nurse recorded the final regrets of her patients facing death. Of the many men and women she interviewed no one mentioned wishing for Louboutins, a nice whip, more money or prestige. In fact, material possessions didn’t make the list at all. As folks faced death, they regretted not allowing themselves happiness, contentment with what they had and deeper relationships with loved ones.
As I raced around the island in taxis determined to do it all and see it all around my grueling work hours, an elderly Singaporean taxi driver asked me if it was true that in everyone in America has his or her own large plate. In Asian cultures, communal meals with small plates are the norm and the idea of overfed Americans toddling from the buffet line with overburned plates piled high with food made him laugh. I sheepishly defended our culture that gave us that gave us the Pizzabon for a hot minute then stopped short. What if having too much on one’s plate has a literal meaning after all?And, maybe our national pasttime of overeating is just another way of trying to have it all while attempting to eat it all.
So, how do we have it all no matter what we have? Maybe it starts by dwelling in the right here, right now. Worried about the light bill? Take whatever action you can; then let it go. Slow down and dwell in contentment. With enough practice (prayer, meditation, or perhaps, hilarious internet cat video marathons), happiness becomes a habit.
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