Happiness is a Learned Condition

It’s just never easy when I travel.

I really thought this time I was doing pretty well – I got to the airport at around 6 for a 7:45 AM flight. I was actually packed before the last minute since I moved everything I own last night into storage in St. Louis for a few weeks. I had time to get up to get up and have a cup of coffee.

We get to the airport. I open the trunk and realize… I forgot my purse.

Some of the more colorful curse words in my vocabulary immediately came to mind. I truly am a danger to myself and others while sleepwalking through the wee hours of the morning the way I do; I always forget something mildly important – you know, just my driver’s license, my debit card, my cash, and my phone. Little things.

After a white-knuckled, anxious journey back and forth from where I was staying to the airport, I get my purse and get going on checking in. I managed to make my flight. My connection, however, had some issues. It was a few hours late arriving, and then right before takeoff, the pilot informs us that the plane had a flat tire. Once they started to work on changing the tire, they realized the brakes were fubared too.

I’m a little perturbed that we didn’t notice the flat until another plane told us. I can’t  imagine landing a plane with a flat tire is all that safe.

On the flight here, I started reading Tom Robbins’ “Another Roadside Attraction.” Early on in the book, the protagonist talks about style:

“The most important thing in life is style. That is, the style of one’s existence – the characteristic mode of one’s actions – is basically, ultimately what matters… happiness is a learned condition.”

Happiness and I have a complicated relationship. At this point, I really don’t know if the path I chose will make me happy. I am a procrastinating worrier who likes to have a clear plan but rarely does. And today is Day 1 of a fairly unscripted period of my life.

I do know that I feel truly alive when I travel, meet new people, experience new things…  I feel a fierce joy from being independent and from the amount I learn simply from throwing myself into a new environment.

But in exchange for those feelings, I sacrifice… comfort. Familiarity. My pride occasionally  when I realize that this lifestyle sometimes means I must rely on the help of others just as much as it is an exercise in independence and self-reliance. And as much as I have been craving to get out of Columbia and back on the road, it scares the shit out of me. When I’m not worrying about money, I’m worrying about what the heck I’m going to do once I get to St. Louis. I’ve had this conversation more times than I can count at this point:

THEM: “Oh, so you’re moving to St. Louis!”

ME: “That’s the plan.”

THEM: “So you have a place there?”

ME: “Nope.”

THEM: “A job?”

ME: “Not really. I’m broke, and I’m going to Florida and South Carolina for an undetermined amount of time first.”

THEM: *Awkward optimistic comment followed by a look of concern*

But… I’m trying to learn how to be happy, and part of that includes figuring out what makes me happy and how I can incorporate that into my life. I’ve struggled with the concept of being content with my life for years, a trait I recognize in many around me. If happiness truly is a learned condition, then we must be a society of masochists. I see so many good people stubbornly marching on a path — career-wise, relationship-wise, financially — that clearly makes them miserable with some odd sense that perseverance will alter their contentment with the final outcome. But if the pursuit is unfulfilling, then a person’s “characteristic mode of actions” would seem hollow and empty –would the final outcome be any different?

What happened to us that rendered us incapable of identifying what truly will provide a fulfilling existence? I might be young, but I’m old enough to know that the pursuit of the American Dream is not a recipe for my personal fulfillment. I don’t know what is, but I’m willing to try to figure it out. And I’m enjoying this quest immensely.

So I’ll be a nomad for awhile. I’ll figure out how to get through the next few weeks somehow. I’ll stress, worry, probably cry.

But I hope those moments will be outweighed by the joy I feel from seeing my family and studying what I love more than anything on this planet with two dancers that I truly admire.

I’m learning, I’m learning…