Part I: Searching for Value
Value [‘vɶl yu]: relative worth, merit, or importance (n)
I have imperfections. Real, debilitating imperfections: I’m a chronic avoider, and not only have I purposefully avoided people and situations that make me uncomfortable, I’ve created many crutches to continue this bad habit, including poor communication skills, a lack of assertiveness, and a physical aversion to confrontation. One whiff of confrontation and I’m out the door.
Naturally, I think it’s a “genetic” condition. I come from a long line of chronic avoiders, stemming from years and years of religious fanaticism, unhealthy relationships, abuse, and unstable perceptions of self-esteem.
Don’t worry! I wasn’t physically abused (except for a few supposedly deserved spankings) nor neglected during my upbringing. Not at all. Without a doubt, I know my parents love me and each of my siblings dearly, and they did their very best to raise us to be kind, respectful, empathetic individuals. And for the most part, they succeeded.
We were just deprived of something we all desperately want: validation of our self-worth. We wanted to hear, “You’re important,” “You matter,” “We’re proud of you,” “We love you,” from our parents, but these verbal confirmations were few and far between because although my father is the breathing soul of our family, using his wisdom and intellect to keep us grounded, and my mother is the beating heart of our family, using her compassion and sensitivity to keep us together, they both came from families of chronic avoiders. Thus being exposed to this form of upbringing, they parroted this bad habit onto the next generation.
Me: Our family is weird and we suck at expressing our true feelings.
My father: Congratulations! You just described every family in the world.
Of course, it’s natural to seek affirmation of our self-worth from our parents. Everyone does it either intentionally or unintentionally. Yet if they don’t give us enough of the good stuff, we’ll seek validation in other places, especially from our romantic and/or platonic relationships. Subsequently, if we still don’t feel adequately valued by our partners and/or friends, we’ll look for confirmation from random third parties on the internet, from society, or from our circumstances (e.g., our status, our physical appearance, our possessions, etc.).
We NEED validation, and our weird quirks are overcompensating for our lack of self-worth! This dependency on validation is very dangerous, and in extreme cases, this dependency can be used to control marginalized groups.
Here’s the ultimate problem: We are searching for validation in all the wrong places. We will never find our absolute value in an extrinsic source. Humans don’t have the capacity to give constant affirmation. It’s too exhausting. Perhaps, we need to look intrinsically.
- Do we have less value because our parents don’t affirm our self-worth?
- Do we have less value because we don’t get along with our coworkers?
- Do we have more value because we’re in a romantic relationship?
- Do we have more value because we have children?
- Do we have more value because we believe in a deity?
Absolutely, not. Our value is not defined by our relationships.
Here we go again:
- Do we have more value because we travel?
- Do we have more value because we’re the CEO of a multi-millionaire company?
- Do we have less value because we don’t look like a supermodel?
- Do we have less value because we don’t have the latest iPhone?
- Do we have less value because we failed that math test in 6th grade?
Absolutely, not. Our value is not defined by our circumstances.
We have value, simply because we are.
Part II: Searching for Contentment
Contentment [kən’tɛnt mənt]: the state of modest satisfaction; the ease of mind (n)
So, we’ve determined that our value is intrinsic. Okay, we repeat to ourselves “I’m awesome sauce,” and we go on living without insecurities.
Ha. Easier said then, done. Amirite.
We’re feeling awesome sauce until someone prettier, smarter, richer, cooler, funnier, [insert insecurity-causing quality] walks by. Oh dear, we need to reel in our expectations and put them in check.
We’ve all gotten the memo that society has a prescribed recipe for success, and until we achieve this ideal, we will never experience true “happiness”.
Hands up if you’ve thought any of the following:
- “I will be happier when I’m 10 pounds thinner.”
- “I will be happier when I make more money.”
- “I will be happier when I’m in a relationship.”
- “I will be happier when I’m more outgoing.”
- “I will be happier if I look more like [insert idolized person].”
- “I will be happier when I have [insert newest gadget].”
Unfortunately, if you think the grass is always greener on the other side, prepare for a sh*t storm of dissatisfaction, my friend.
Here are some initial problems with this mindset:
- Striving for society’s recipe for success is ridiculous. Even if we get closer to this ideal, it will constantly change, making it an impossible goal to achieve.
- Pursuing “happiness” is ridiculous. It makes as much sense as pursuing sadness. Happiness is an emotional reaction to stimuli. Maintaining this emotional response would require an exorbitant amount of effort and resources on our part, inevitably creating an endless cycle of unhappiness. The human mind actually prefers homeostasis.
The grass is always greener where you water it, my friend.
Now, let’s take a moment and ask ourselves, “Am I content?“
Wait! Isn’t contentment a synonym of happiness!?!
Here’s the difference:
- Happiness is a fleeting feeling that ebbs and flows like the tide.
- Contentment, on the other hand, is constant state of being.
Seeking contentment requires the simple act of admitting we’re satisfied. Our fundamental (physical, emotional, psychological) needs are being met, our expectations are in check, we deal with problems calmly & fairly, we love others sincerely for who they are, and we do not feel compelled to desire more. Life is good, just as it is. This is contentment.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pursue our goals, have new experiences or try to be a better person. Not at all. It just means when new opportunities come around, remember that they won’t add to or lessen our value, but instead, let’s just be grateful for their occurrence, likewise if new opportunities don’t come around. Even if we don’t have much, there is still so much to be thankful for.
Moral of the story:
Seek a constant state of contentment rather than happiness. And don’t forget: We’re people of intrinsic value simply because WE ARE.
As always, thank you for reading and joining me on this #internationalcoffeejourney
Love with your whole heart even if there is no guarantee. Practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror. Believe that you are enough because then, you will stop screaming and start listening once we believe that we’ll be kinder and gentler to those around us and to ourselves.