Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Desiring more and happiness

איזהו אשיר? השמח בחלכו

Who is rich? The one who is happy with his lot. (פרקי אבות ד א )

We usually take this to mean material possessions: the one who appreciates all the stuff that he has is content. Overall, the one who is satisfied with his lot in life, who can appreciate all the good things that have happened to him, is happy. But what if your lot in life is to yearn for more? What if you are always challenging status quo? What if it's not about material possessions at all, but about wanting to acquire more knowledge, so you always want another class? What if you want even closer relationship with your spouse and children? What if you want to be more than what you currently are?

I just had a funny experience with the contractors working on the house that we are (hopefully) moving into. The closets are not finished yet, so they told me that they have a certain budget and can customize within that budget. Alternatively, I can go and get my own closet components and they will install them. I was offered a long closet shelf and a rod running the full length of every closet in the house, including a ridiculously long walk-in master closet. I stepped back, saying that we do not have nearly enough clothes to warrant such a long hanging system. The contractor countered that I can go to Home Depot and pick up the closet system that they have and they will happily install it. Their idea of a happy customer was someone who took stock of the large space they offered for clothes storage and then went and bought enough storage implements for all the clothes. I started thinking and asking whether a rod can be installed only in one-half of the closet space and the rest can eventually be lobbed off into master bedroom. I was envisioning a crafting space, a place for a desk where I can type, spread art supplies without kids messing with them, go back to watercolor and acrylics, set up the sewing machine. The contractor raised his hands up in protest: Please do not move any more walls, we will not finish this house in time. The agent piped in about resale value of a giant master closet. I thought how having this huge wasted space without air conditioning or windows and using it for storage of stuff because in the future somebody will covet it is stupid.

This is bringing into sharp focus how my "wanting more" is not the same as most people's "wanting more". I would like to use certain material possessions and advantages to achieve space, time and product. I have noted to my husband how my homeschool friends and acquaintances are more interesting and outspoken than the regular school parents. Perhaps the common denominator is the desire for change, the lot of wanting more. I pulled my oldest out of school because I wanted to give him more than the school was offering. I wanted to give him the gift of free time. I wanted to give him the ability to choose his own reading material and engage deeply with the content. I wanted him to figure out what interests him and pursue it. I wanted him to have an opportunity to read Chumash and Gemara as one reads a novel: out of his own free will, at his pace, and his comfort level. I wanted my family not to be stuck in the same old race of waking everyone up early and rushing everyone out the door because things have to be done (work, school, extracurriculars, grocery shopping). I really wanted more for my family.

Where does all this leave me vis-a-vis the Mishna? Am I unhappy because I want more? Or is wanting more that is not material possessions an essential human drive and not included in the text of the Mishna?

I am dreading having to go to the store and look at all these closet systems that I did not even know existed and then having to choose which one goes where. I cannot convince myself that it is like going to the dentist: painful, but necessary and it is better to just quickly get it over with.

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