What Determines Quality of Life and Are We Inadvertently Sabotaging Ours?
A shooting star crashes across Saturn and disappears inside the Milky Way, a nebulous presence stretched above the sleeping volcano.
The little old man, cross-legged in the dark, points out Vega. Behind us, the moon sets and collapses the remaining light beyond the horizon of galaxies. Balls of fire cycle through their life stages, shimmering in and out of the overall continuation. People always talk about the affect of the night sky, to the point it’s cliche, but this is hard to ignore when simply taking it all in steals your breath. It’s incomprehensible.
As is its power to change one’s position and point of view with the most unignorable of reality checks. From my blanket in the dirt, I can’t help but consider what Helene and I have been discussing for the last three months: What determines quality of life?
A friend survey called out your standard players: health, prosperity, family and friends, blah, blah, blah. Basically all the things Maslow laid out in his triangle.
Too many people can tick off most, if not all, of the boxes of basic necessities and varying levels of recognition and self-esteem. Still, they seem to struggle with general contentment. With X number of American adults clinging to Prozac and Paxil, it begs the question: why? Why do so many, who from the outside seemingly have so much, trudge through life?
This is What We Do.
This is Where We Are.
Whether it’s a better environment, a partner, money, improved health—you name it—our culture seems to have a pervasive undercurrent of longing for, a needing of, different circumstances.
This is what we do.
We yearn. We yearn for that thing that’ll make us happy. Unaware of what that is or unsure of how to get it, and thus frustrated, dissatisfied, (enter low-energy adjective here), we naturally take inspiration from others. We look to their actions, dialogues, or accomplishments and model them to finally reach Level 10 of Happiness.
Yet, as soon as we get there, we’re somehow still dissatisfied, and off looking for the next. Delaying happiness, wallowing in our yearning, until we get that fix for which we’re conditioned to race. Houses that stake our worth, salaries that posture at roof-top parties, lamps that give voice to our souls. Basically, anything that offers preapproved stature and validation. But despite the comfort, a Bugatti can’t offer long-lasting contentment. At best, that beautiful Veyron Super Sport only yields momentary gratification (though probably repeated every single time you slip into it—let’s be fair.)
And the most gutting thing about it? Frankly, we don’t always want what we’re chasing. Not really. We simply believe it’s the Golden Ticket.
Seriously? WTF kind of sense does that make?
That’s not all. Consider, too, that until Death takes hold, each of us perpetually navigates constant flux. A daily evolution of change you’ll always be a part of—until you’re not. At any given moment, each of the key circumstances improves or declines, and the entire time, we have to live with ourselves.
Relationships, money, friends, family, health, all the stuff happening around us continuously morphs. Say on Monday, you may be completely healthy, looking for a job, and have great friends. Come Friday, you could develop a cold, get hired, and find yourself in the middle of a row with one of your mates. Consider it Life Whack-a-Mole.
This is where we are.
The outside world yanks, jerking us around to address whatever pops, testing our character, and taking its emotional toll. While we find new shape as a result, the only thing that doesn’t change is we are who we are, and a trouble-free life doesn’t exist. Perfect might as well be a unicorn.
So what now? Not only are we depleted from competing, we can’t depend on external factors to tuck us in. What is there, then, to rely on?
As I give this thought room to play, silence fills in between the gaps of Enrique’s words, cushioning tales of Orion, giving them distance, history. He focuses his descriptions on “the most beautiful of the sky,” now paying particular attention to two binary stars, exceptional from all others in that one is orange and the other blue. Moonlight silhouettes his frame in slivers as he putters with the telescope, stooping and shifting his weight from foot to foot. With an Italian accent, Enrique more sings than says, “Please try to understand the color of the stars.”
Something about this sentence wraps me in comfort, leaving me repeating it into the black so I won’t forget it. Please try to understand the color of the stars. Why does this stay with me? Maybe because it’s asking me to use an alternative angle to notice the small details I fail to see on a daily basis. I’m appreciating an element of life I’ve never really seen before by trying to understand its meaning. What makes these stars so unique to have these colors? Why these specific colors? With this attention, they explode into the here and now with such speed and size, pulling me into a deeper layer, another realm of reality, another aspect of this world where stars have color.
What’s so beautiful about this, aside from the moment itself, lies in the fact that with every new observation and experience, the more we give slack to our perception of what reality should look like, we open ourselves to possibility. Herein lies the most substantial and intense growth. “When you look into the lens, you will have to play a bit to find the right position to gain the best perspective,” the soft voice soothes, washing over.
Stars Never Lie
It’s easy to get to the bottom of what you deserve when orange and blue stars remind you of who you’re not.
Enrique’s point isn’t lost to the ether. He hasn’t come out right and said it, but where he puts his attention is enough. What stands out, what feels most satisfying, is originality. This truth extends beyond constellations and Saturn’s rings to everything: art, ideas, people. Despite our conditioned inclination to mesh with society, what’s true possesses greater resonance.
That in mind, being under a sheet of starlight forces us to brave two unavoidable facts: The world is infinite, but our time is not. So, of course this begs, why waste it being anything other than ourselves? We’re facing both the internal and external voids out here, but being under the cosmos forces us to be brutal about our own nature. We’re forced to ask ourselves: are you genuine or just appeasing your parents or spouse, the faceless crowd in your mind? Are you wasting your life being someone you’re not?
Of course, we have to have caution delving, as once we assess, we’re stuck. We either have to change (if we’re not living at 100 percent) or we have to accept, with full mental capacity, that every minute after, every hour, every day, is another in which we’re selling ourselves short.
IMHO, quality of life comes down to authenticity: An unwavering dedication to honor who we are and what we want, despite all outside influences. Then, vehemently aligning life to our priorities and values in all manners of action and language.
At this point, questions about who should steer seem laughable. We can’t expect paths of rose petals laid at our feet, but we’ll decide where to go. Life won’t be something forced upon us without a second thought.
When we know who we are and how we want to exist in this moment, we take control back. Without this, the movement of our strings isn’t our own. Rather, it belongs to family members, co-PTA chairs, that woman who never brings in her trash cans. All with opinions and preferences, none of which are fully invested in our best interest (especially when it conflicts with their own).
It’s easy to feel like taking such a position feels aggressive. However, nothing about being real requires telling everyone to take a walk so that we can step into our own. Authenticity isn’t about pushing back, it’s about turning inward. It’s simply refusing to be anything other than ourselves, in any given situation, to please other people.
Because let’s look at other people for a second. They’re battling their own faults and weaknesses and know nothing of our challenges and goals.The idea of feeding on the approval of broken individuals seems…asinine. Why allow their preferences to overrule our own? Why be so laid-back—so cavalier—in our approach to being in the world?
Especially when the satisfaction of this other option feels so raw.
From my position laying down, the North Star falls in line with my spine and an internal shift occurs, followed by a decision. Authenticity is about having an embodied knowing of who we are, honoring that space inside of ourselves that connects us to the same continuum of the stars (that stoic, unmoved, unaffected sanctuary). Then being honest about it. First to ourselves, and later to the rest of the world, notably the hardest part. When we opt to reclaim our choices and priorities, behaviors and goals, it changes our trajectory. It gives us genuine ownership of our lives, a complete presence that when we finally take it, feels like shedding the bullshit. A cloak, we finally realize, that has been suffocating us all along. As I’m thinking this, I imagine the planet standing straight up, me also vertical and holding on to its edge, facing an edgeless expanse, the universe drifting in front of me.
This is the most lifesaving thing we can ever do: claiming our authenticity. This is freedom.