I've spent the better part of this weekend reading The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin. I'm reading it on my iPad, so I find myself highlighting sections and taking online notes, mainly because I can. (I rarely go back and read the passages I've outlined, but hold faith that someday the habit may come in handy.)
Inspired by Rubin to do a better job of connecting and engaging the loved ones in my life, I decided to start a conversation based on a paragraph in the book that resonated with me. When neither cat seemed keen on analyzing the finer points of the passage, I went in search of Blair.
"Let me read this to you," I said flopping down on the bed. Blair was barely visible behind a mound of shirts he was ironing. (I'm a wife, not a maid. Don't judge me.) "This is about why it's important to grow and try new things." I cleared my throat and read:
One reason that challenge brings happiness is that it allows you to expand your self-definition. You become larger. Suddenly you can do yoga or make homemade beer or speak a decent amount of Spanish. Research shows that the more elements make up your identity, the less threatening it is when any one element is threatened.
"I love that," I said. "It explains, for example, why so many men are lost when they lose their jobs or retire. It's the cliche that their identity is their job. The problem is that when their job element is threatened, that's all they have. They have no other elements to fall back on."
Blair hung a freshly pressed shirt in his closet and added water to the iron.
"So... what are your elements?" I asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Well," I said. "Some of my elements are that I'm a writer, an author, a runner, an instructor, a mentor, a so-so cook, a board member... Vegetarian used to be a HUGE element for me and, honestly, it's still really hard for me to give that one up. Even with other elements to fall back on, that one was so huge for long that it's exactly like what she said--I feel threatened no longer having it to wrap around me like a security blanket."
"That makes sense," said Blair.
I sensed he was shying away from naming his elements. I decided to help. "So your elements are that you're a CPA, a runner..." I looked at him encouragingly.
"I just don't see it that way," he said. He hung another perfectly pressed shirt in his closet. "I don't break myself down into categories. I'm just Blair."
"And that's great," I said. "But what makes up Blair?"
"It doesn't matter," he said. "I'm just me. I don't feel like I need to add or name elements to define myself. I'm happy being just who I am."
I hate it when he goes Zen on me.
"But..." I said floundering. "Just for fun then. What would your elements be?"
He shrugged. "Don't really know. Don't really care."
The sting of it is that he's right. At least about himself. Blair could lose his job tomorrow and it would not impact his self-esteem or self-image in the least. If he had to get a job flipping fries at McDonald's, he'd do it and not think twice about what people might think or say. As he says, he's just Blair.
I should try to be more Blair-like, I suppose, and focus on the whole me instead of labeling the disparate parts that make up me.
I'm going to do it then. Be just like Blair.
Then I'll be able to add "Zen-master" to my elements list!