Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart - Gordon Livingston
This author has a wonderful, calming view of the world that seemed to resonate with my current mind. He boils years of work as a psychologist into a few hundred pages of wisdom. A focus on the long term gives life happiness and satisfaction. While reading this, I felt grateful for the people around me, and a strong urge to let them know.
This is the map we wish to construct in our heads: a reliable guide that allows us to avoid those who are not worthy of our time and trust and to embrace those who are.
The three components of happiness are something to do, someone to love, and something to look forward to.
In fact, our children owe us nothing. It was our decision to bring them into the world. If we loved them and provided for their needs it was our task as parents, not some selfless act. We knew from the beginning that we were raising them to leave us and it was always our obligation to help them do this unburdened by a sense of unending gratitude or perpetual debt.
Some therapists do a better job with certain patients. What all of us hesitate to admit is that we tend to be more helpful to people who are like us. This seldom-acknowledged prejudice makes logical sense. None of us would be very effective therapists if we were dropped in a foreign country, even if we spoke the language.
A currently more common example of a diagnostic fad is adult Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Disorganized, daydreaming procrastinators now have a medical explanation for their inattention AND an effective treatment: stimulant drugs. People uniformly report that their spirits are better and that they get more done when taking an amphetamine. To which I can only reply, “Me, too.”
We live in a competitive society. We are forever dividing the world up into winners and losers: Republicans versus Democrats, good versus evil, our team versus their team. Our capitalist system is founded on competition; our legal system thrives on conflict and the pursuit of self-interest. Is it any wonder then that we often see the world through a win/lose, two-alternative lens? Such a view is, of course, disastrous for the delicate process of achieving intimacy with another human being.
The problem with perfectionists and their preoccupation with control is that the qualities that make them effective in their work can render them insufferable in their personal lives.
Life’s two most important questions are “Why?” and “Why not?” The trick is knowing which one to ask.
No one would expect to become good at skiing without falling down. And yet many people are surprised at the hurt that routinely accompanies our efforts to find someone worthy of our love.
After long years of working, the retiree is presumably entitled to leisure, social security, and senior discounts. Yet all of these prerogatives are poor compensation for the devalued status of the elderly.
And what is psychotherapy? It is goal-directed conversation in the service of change. That’s what people who come for help want: change
Virtually all the happiness-producing processes in our lives take time, usually a long time: learning new things, changing old behaviors, building satisfying relationships, raising children. This is why patience and determination are among life’s primary virtues.
In a society based on consumption, the concept of instant gratification is pervasive. Advertising presents us constantly with images that suggest that happiness can be ours through ownership of material goods. Attractive people with lots of friends are shown enjoying themselves in a way that suggests that we might join them if we buy the correct car, the right house, the proper beer.
One effect of these ads is to produce dissatisfaction with what we have and how we look. Another is to suggest the availability of a rapid antidote to our discontent: spending money. Is it any wonder that almost all of us are in debt?
So here’s to the role of time, patience, and reflection in our lives. If we believe it is better to build than destroy, better to live and let live, better to be than to be seen, then we might have a chance, slowly, to find a satisfying way through life, this flicker of consciousness between two great silences.
Americans are a linear people. We value discernible goals and see the straightest paths to them. Our educational system launches us on our stepwise journeys. The rules we are to follow are clear and involve obedience to authority, hard work, and cooperation with others. Original thought is prized within the confines of the hierarchical structures within which we are educated. We are taught to do what we are told until sufficient time elapses that we are allowed to tell others what to do.
There are no maps to guide our most important searches; we must rely on hope, chance, intuition, and a willingness to be surprised.
There is nothing more pointless, or common, than doing the same things and expecting different results.
Nearly every human action is in some way an expression of how we think about ourselves.
No element of dissatisfaction with our lives is more common than a belief that we have in our youth made the wrong choice of partner. The fantasies generated thereby often take the form of a conviction that there exists somewhere the person who will save us with his or her love. Much of the infidelity that is the hallmark of unhappy marriages rests on this illusion.
The rise of effective somatic treatments—antibiotics, surgery, drugs to control conditions like diabetes, hypertension, all manner of hormone deficiencies—has contributed to the sense that healing is something that happens to us rather than something in which we are active participants.
We live in a fear-promoting society. It is the business of advertisers to stoke our anxieties about what we have, what we look like, and whether we are sexually adequate. A dissatisfied consumer is more apt to buy.
Much of our behavior is driven by some combination of greed and competition. The successful entrepreneur is the model for the American success story. Donald Trump is a cultural icon. Success in business seems like a confirmation of the Darwinian concept of the survival of the fittest. The quality or usefulness of the work is insignificant compared to the wealth it generates.
To imagine that we are solely, or even primarily, responsible for the successes and failures of our children is a narcissistic myth.
Memory is not, as many of us think, an accurate transcription of past experience. Rather it is a story we tell ourselves about the past, full of distortions, wishful thinking, and unfulfilled dreams.
Header photo © smugmug.com
Body photo © amazon.com