You always want what you can’t have, right? Mary Laura Philpott, author of I MISS YOU WHEN I BLINK, shares her insight on why we all feel ungrateful sometimes, even when we know we’re extremely lucky and have a great life.
I know how fortunate I am to have my health and my family and my jobs and my roof and my car and my democracy. I do know. I promise. And I know that saying out loud, “I think I might want a different life,” when you already have a perfectly good life is sort of like holding a half-eaten chocolate chip cookie in your hand while saying, “I don’t want a chocolate chip cookie. I think I want some other kind of cookie.” I know some people have no cookies.
Unfortunately, having a fine life doesn’t exempt anyone from existential angst. Maybe it should. Maybe if we were all perfect people, we’d wake up in our nice warm beds, appreciate that we’re not waking up on concrete under an overpass, and cease fretting about our hopes and dreams, because if our basic biological needs are covered—food, shelter, water—what else could be so bad? Perhaps if I were homeless, I wouldn’t give a damn about things like professional satisfaction or personal fulfillment, because my greater concern would be not freezing to death. But I know damn well that once I had food in my belly and a roof over my head, I’d start thinking about those things again. The horizon of needs and wants never actually gets closer; it’s an illusion, a trick. We can always want more. We can always perceive some need.
Robert Browning wrote, “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, / Or what’s a heaven for?” and I feel him on that. But I also say, Okay Bob, what about a woman’s reach? You could fill a canyon with all that’s been written about women wanting “it all” and whether “it all” is fair to want and what the hell even is “it all” and how tired we all are of the backlash against backlash against backlash against that whole overplayed conversation. But I think the question people are arguing about when they fight about it isn’t What should women want? but Should women want? I mean, hey, America gave us the right to vote. We’ve got some high-powered lady-CEO role models now. There are breastfeeding lounges in airports. We have so much! Shouldn’t we stop all this unseemly wanting? Of course not. I know that’s bullshit, even as I know I still feel a little guilty whenever I want more or different than I have. Knowing all this doesn’t change anything.
Remember that little mermaid? You might say she got what was coming to her for reaching too far, but I understand how she felt. She had a good life underwater, but she wanted a different one on land. Is that so terrible?
Find out more ultra-relatable essays about life and reinventing yourself, pick up a copy of I MISS YOU WHEN I BLINK by Mary Laura Philpott.
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Excerpted from I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Phipott Copyright © 2019 by the author. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
Photo by Artem Bali on Unsplash.