I just had a conversation with a friend who’s happy where he is. There’s nothing wrong with that–and yet, the attitude he expressed got me to thinking.

Those of you who I keep up with know that I’ve been on something of an interesting streak this year. 2013 has been a year of more and better, a year of getting things done and of flying forwards. One of my objectives has been to find like-minded people–those who’re also looking to do more and better–and to engage them to consider how much more each of us could do with the involvement of others who care.

In the various conversations I’ve had with people over the last few months, some have expressed more and some less interest in terms of wanting to achieve more, or in setting goals or trying a different way of approaching things. And I’ve been fine with that, because this has been one cause where I don’t want to enlist the unwilling. In this year’s grand effort to better understand my friends, I see myself as enabling them to follow a different path if they already had the inclination, instead of doing any more heavy-handed influencing. I do of course think that my direction–forward–is better than the alternative (and no, there’s no such thing as staying in place in life), but I’m not yet engaged in trying to change people’s minds. To paraphrase the saying, you can only lead people to water.

Let me return to the story with which this post began. So I just met an old friend to catch up and, as with all other catch-ups this year, also to see what his near and long-term plans were. In response to a question of mine asking about if he had any goals on his bucket list, he commented that he was very happy with his life right now. Here’s where I should mention that he had just begun a relationship, and his significant other was also present at this catch-up.

His response is what struck me as interesting, despite how he didn’t actually answer my question. He was very happy with his life right now–and by implication, he wasn’t looking for any more. He had all he (thought he) wanted, at least at present. His is a state that contrasts with mine in interesting ways. We’re both happy with life right now, yet I’m still looking for better. We’re both happy with life right now, but happiness as an emotion isn’t the goal in my life, and nor do I think it’s really the goal of his. The curious idea I was considering was that of people’s motivations–specifically, I was thinking about the idea that people only want one of three things: money, love, or to change the world. Is that the case here, that my friend has just been searching for love at this stage of his life, and that “explains” why he’s content where he is? I’m not sure the answer is that simple.

Lest I be misunderstood, I should note again that I take no issue with my friend’s current state of contentment and lack of interest in doing anything differently. I’m glad that he’s found happiness in the present and glad that his companion seems to be in some ways a potential inspiration to him. My remaining concern for him is because of the nature of happiness–that it’s an ephemeral state that’s powerful precisely because of its fleeting nature. When the intoxicating rush of early infatuation wears off and the need to craft a new dynamic sets in (that statement being based off the current science of love rather than opinion), I’m concerned that he’ll find himself right where he started; or in other words, if one has never learned how to be happy with oneself, and happiness then comes from without, what happens when the source of that happiness changes or disappears? It’s situations like these that remind me of the vital importance of learning how to be at peace with yourself and not having to use anything or anyone as a crutch. This has been one of my greatest concerns within my own relationship as well.

In the remaining time spent conversing this night, there was more bantering than true discussion, which I’ve found unfortunate about our conversations. I like banter, but not just for banter’s sake. Actual catching up was minimal, unfortunately, as I rather expected. But our connection was at least temporarily renewed, and I left the couple with my mind churning away with the ideas that inspired this post.

I imagine the other reason I found my friend’s situation interesting is because I see a potential analog to where I am. I’ve been in a steady relationship for the last three years, which is past the early infatuation period in the relationship. And so when I consider where my friend will be if and when the blissful haze of attraction lifts, I can’t help but to consider where I am along the relationship continuum. Was I and have I been ready to put in the effort to continue building with my partner? How much building ought be done? Are we both growing, such that even if our relationship changes we’ll both emerge better for it? Those and other questions have been floating around in my mind, and I suspect that this year–a year of difficult questions asked and answered–will be the year where I will make great progress along the relationship front, so long as I continue to care about the outcome and so long as I regularly remind myself that the greatest and most worthwhile outcomes come hand-in-hand with the toughest obstacles and greatest trials.

Forward.

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