…And the Wisdom to Know the Difference

“Compassion hurts. When you feel connected to everything, you also feel responsible for everything… You must grow strong enough to love the world, yet empty enough to sit down at the same table with its worst horrors” -Andrew Boyd

Above is one of my favorite quotes by author and activist Andrew Boyd. Compassion hurts. Caring hurts. This is one of the most difficult lessons I have learned in the past year. It also represents a fact of life I am not yet sure I can accept. Is selfishness the ultimate key to happiness?

A 2006 study showed that conservatives were happier than liberals. The reasons for this have been debated at end since the article was published. Factors such as relationship trends, religious ideology, and political position may help to explain the gap, but I can’t help but agree with those who have pointed out that liberals tend to be more worried about the welfare of others. If you dumb it down, aren’t liberals more willing to put the world on their shoulders? Now this is not to imply that conservatives are uncaring or ignorant, but liberals struggle with system justification. They worry about inequality. Does this compassion for such issues cause them to suffer?

The same study found that those with higher incomes reported higher levels of happiness. Now, this isn’t difficult to swallow given that finical stability eliminates many stressors those on a tighter budget face. Here again I find myself thinking what sorts of careers and types of people lead to lower incomes. Let’s look at the jobs we most often equate with low incomes like social workers, teachers, public safety officials etc. These jobs are centered around people and compassion. People who chose to be aids and care takers will, most likely, suffer more financial stress than those becoming marketing officials and entrepreneurs (well successful ones). So do we get punished for wanting to serve others?

When people, myself included, travel around the world doing service and saving lives in destitute countries, what is the one phrase you hear over and over again once the journey is over? “Oh, I discovered so much about myself..” Oh? Well $5,000 in air fare, medical bills, and hotel stays  does sound like a fair price for peace of mind. Remind me again how does self-discovery solve world hunger or child slavery exactly? Now I sound like a pretentious and sarcastic pessimist so let me rewind. I am referring to my personal experience of traveling to Uganda with a beloved nonprofit. It is a wonderful organization with a wonderful mission and values. Our trip was purposeful and successful. However, lets be honest my most treasured souvenirs from Uganda are the pieces of the people that touched me and became a part of me, making me who I am. The memories and the people who made me wiser and smarter and hopeful and optimistic are what I am thankful for. I sound..pretty selfish?

So as the year comes to a close, I look back on the changes I’ve faced and the struggles that came with them. As I consciously call my happiness into question, I think of the things I have been searching for and missing. I think of the things that stand between me and what I can only hope is my happiness. The things I want and that make me happy are the same things I tell my self I cannot and should not do. Why? Because they are things I want but they may not make sense to everyone else. They are the choices that I would be making out of pure selfishness. I continually chose not do the things I believe would improve my happiness because I do not want to be selfish, I am scared to admit that I need to be selfish, and most of all I am scared of what people think. I was raised to do what makes me happy and I myself have told people that it is ok to be selfish but does anyone really want to admit that they care more about themselves than others? We know that we must make ourselves happy but can we accept it? Can I accept it? Now I’m not usually one for prayer but maybe this is the time to break out that old serenity prayer I’ve heard so much about…

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