If you want to see everything in a totally new light, watch Brené Brown talk about what makes people happy. She's a researcher who interviewed a zillion people and then analyzed all the data and figured out that there’s really only one single thing that makes all of us happy.
And that thing is, a sense of connection.
You might be nodding, saying, yah, yah, I know, obviously that’s what really matters, that’s not groundbreaking.
Except, who among us can say they actually organize their life accordingly? Something like this: “Well, since connection is the most important thing, what should I do in my thirty minutes of free time in order to feel most connected to the people I care about?” Like, when did you last say that?
After I watched Brené Brown I started thinking about how I was totally one-hundred-percent in agreement with what she said – and yet my life was organized for something different. Thirty minutes of free time? Great, I’ll accomplish stuff. I’ll do the dishes and send six e-mails and call about the oil bill! Yes!
Not that it’s any big mystery why my life was organized that way. In the words of writer David Brooks: “Somehow the things that didn’t lead to happiness and flourishing had been emphasized at the expense of the things that did.” That’s from a piece he wrote several years ago called “The Social Animal.” At the time I came across that article I was in grad school, meaning I was diligently and maybe obsessively focused on doing bang-up schoolwork so I could then get the dream job that would be the crowning achievement to my years of striving. More David Brooks: “He’d spent years struggling to dazzle his Mandarin tutors while excelling in obscure sports, trying (not too successfully) to impress admissions officers with S.A.T. prowess and water-purification work in Zambia, sweating to wow his bosses with not overlong PowerPoints. But maybe the real action was in this deeper layer.” When I read that, amidst my grad school striving, I prickled; I tingled with recognition. This deeper layer. I knew it to be true – and yet I wasn’t ready. I went right back to all my striving, even as the words burned into my memory.
Fast forward a couple years and I had a great job that did look to be the crowning achievement of years of striving. I was on a stupendous upward trajectory. And, I was unhappy. Somehow the things that didn’t lead to happiness had been emphasized at the expense of the things that did.
By the time I encountered Brené Brown I’d already made some changes. I had left my job and started writing. Writing was something I always wanted to do, but I’d opted instead to pursue things that were more likely to look like success – plus, by intentionally avoiding what I really wanted, it wouldn’t matter as much if I failed. Nice little strategy, huh? Anyway, by the time I watched Brené Brown reveal the secrets of the universe, I had broken through some of that self-sabotage and had gotten myself writing. Among other things, I had begun this blog.
But once I started blogging, all my old habits zoomed in, like flies to a puss-filled wound. I found myself desperate for this blog to really be something. I wanted people to notice. I wanted them to say, “Wow! Good job!”
Somehow the things that didn’t lead to happiness had been emphasized at the expense of the things that did.
Then Brené Brown whacked me over the head and swept aside all the clutter so that what remained was just this one thing, the thing that finally matters: a sense of connection. And just by chance, at the same time I was learning and pondering her wisdom, an e-mail appeared. It was a message from someone who had read the blog and wanted to tell me the story of losing his own father. I read and re-read the message. Then I wrote to him, to say how much it meant that he had responded in such a personal way.
Connection, that is.
The point is connection. Even, and especially, with this blog. Even, and especially, in thirty minutes of spare time. The point, finally, is connection.