- Research has found that once you have a base level of financial resources, experiences, rather than objects, are the drivers of happiness.
- Part of your story is that you are attached to the other characters who have helped you develop the plot.
- To transcend your story, the first step is to step off the stage and onto the balcony and observe yourself on stage.
You are a creator. As another creator, I salute you. What have I created? A few books? This post? Leadership courses?
What We Create
I have created something much more far-reaching in my life: my story.
I am male. I am fifty-five. I am American with Spanish and Hungarian ancestry. My parents divorced when I was five. I grew up with a physically abusive stepfather and spent a lot of my childhood reeling from family trauma, with low self-esteem related to what was happening at home. I learned the most important values that have guided my life while living for three years as a community development worker in rural Africa.
As I learned to trust and become confident in myself over the years, I became very intrigued by the social connection that had been so elusive in my life growing up. I research, write, and teach about social connection, including how leaders facilitate it to create organizations in which human beings can experience compassionate, meaningful, sustainable relationships (or what I call “CMSRs”) with others and thrive in their lives. I live and teach in Rome with my wife, who is Mexican, and our two children.
You also have your story.
You Never Controlled the Plot
Part of your story is that you are attached to the other characters who have helped you develop the plot. This is why you use the possessive adjective: “my mother,” “my child,” “my boyfriend (or girlfriend or husband or wife),” “my friend,” and “my brother.” Since your personal identity is interwoven with these other characters, their behavior is very important to you, as it exerts a lot of influence on your story.
You are also attached to specific objects–“my car,” “my house,” “my clothes,” “my books”–even though they have never brought you much happiness. Each time you have finally owned one of these objects, you have realized that you are still stuck with yourself–desperately alone with only your story to keep you company.
Research has found that once you have a base level of financial resources, experiences, rather than objects, are the drivers of happiness. Why? Because experiences (“doing” something with others, such as going to a restaurant or a concert) are more often shared—helping us evolve from our stories with others through our CMSRs–while objects (“having” something such as a new shirt or gadget) are most often enjoyed alone, leaving us embedded in our memories of our past relationships–our stories.
It is true that you created your story and you are the only one who can change it. Yet it is not true that you can change the other characters. You’ve likely spent many years trying. It was a full-time job that supplemented your other full-time job of attempting to be you.
Your only option if you do not wish to go through life in a constant state of anxiety and stress about the other characters in your story is to finally accept them as they are. To stop blaming them for being them as best they know how—rather than you-as-them-if-you-were-them, which you never were and, for this reason, never really worked for them.
Step Onto the Balcony
If you are like most of us, you have probably not yet made this transformative decision. You have likely spent most of your life preoccupied with the comings and goings and machinations and preferences of the other characters, instead of seeing them as they are: as other human beings who enter and exit your stage–your story–throughout your life.
To transcend the perpetual drama that is your story, then, the first step is to step off stage and onto the balcony, and observe yourself on stage, in the middle of your story, interacting with the other characters.
We are the only animals with such stories. We feel guilt, worry, anxiety, even depression, because of our fixation on our story–especially on the gap between how we wish our story evolved versus how it actually has. Dogs, cats, ferrets and rhinos do not feel all these complex emotions based on the complex plot lines of their previous social encounters, or their fears about how they will navigate future social encounters. They just live.