I remember when I just got out of college and was in seminary. After the initial rush of being in a new setting with new people and new challenges, I started feeling a little down. I began to realize that one of the things that made me feel down was that my social life was not all that active. I would usually do church work most of the day Sunday, most of the time I would do something social either Friday or Saturday. That would leave me one weekend night either going to a movie alone, or sitting in my dorm room by myself. Or, once in a while watching video travel movies checked out from the public library by the international students.
I began to feel like something was wrong with me. What normal adult social life consists of a night of watching travel movies from Sweden made in 1970 with foriegn exchange students? Doesn't everyone else have all sorts of fun every Friday and every Saturday night? Whats wrong with me?
Soon, I made friends with one of my best friends named Shawn. I respected Shawn. And, I came to realize that many weeks a lot of their social life consisted in me coming over once a week with DVDs and watching them once the kids went to bed. Then I began to get to know the commuter students. And when we would go out for drinks after bible classes they would say that this was about as much of a social life as they had at the present time. I came to understand that my unrealistic expectations about my social life were getting me depressed. I was comparing my life to what I saw on television, or some urban myth instead of real life. And, I learned to enjoy staying at home and reading or sneaking out on some adventure in Kansas City by myself. I discovered I was not really that lonely, I was just taking on external standards of what my life should be like. An my adoption of those ill fitting external standards had made me depressed.
Sometimes I have also come to realize that my internal standards are a little overrealistic too. Although I can come off as a laid back, roll-with-the punches kind of friar, there is an inner perfectionist which drives lots of my self talk. My inner perfectionist has a hard time accepting things the way they are, and compares myself to an internal standard for myself that is higher than any external standard I could place on myself. I want to never fail. I want to always be more successful that the day before. And that can get me down. It is at those moments when looking at other people's internal standards can be helpful. Do most other people I know feel like they are a failure because they have not written the great american novel? Do most other people have this sense that if they have not accomplished great things in their field of passion that their life is a miserable joke? Maybe a few. But most happy people I know live in the joy of the present moment, and feel good about themselves if they make ends meet and have a few good friends.
So what does that all mean? I guess it means that if I want to be happier I need to be living less for what should be, and spending more time trying to make the best of and grow from what is. But that is easier said than done.