(un)Great(ful) Expectations

What do we do when the goals society teaches us to strive for are not the ones we find fulfilling?

A short while ago I travelled to the UK for a little holiday. It was such a massive shift from the dry, blistering hot deserts of the United Arab Emirates where I’m currently living. I was so excited to get away from work, from city life, from the heat – a little break from it all was what I needed. The week I spent there was long enough to remind me of the things I miss from western life, but also to drop little seeds of doubt into my mind about how well I really know myself. I started to wonder what I need around me to feel happy and settled. What kind of a place do I need to live in if I want to feel like I could stop bouncing around the world and call a place home? Sometimes I think I know, and then I go wandering…

Feeling disconnected, looking for comfort

Having grown up in the west, it never fails to amaze me when I feel disconnected from a culture that I am meant to be part of. While certain things will always feel more “normal” to me, there are some things I missed out on somewhere along the way. I find it very easy to sink into backdrops that remind me of my childhood. I grew up in central Newfoundland, where trees and greenery went on endlessly. Even now, when I prefer to live in big heaving cities around the world, I still want to see flowers and trees throughout them.

I suppose that’s not entirely disconnected from my aching desire to experience four seasons, either. One of the weirdest things I found about living in South Korea was my students continually explaining to me that their country has four distinct seasons. I thought it was bizarre to feel patriotic about something so normal. Although, living in a hotter climate now I really do miss such simple things. Dare I say it? I think I’m hardwired to suffer through a winter every year. But does that make for a major criteria to be put on the list of Top Five Needs when considering a place to hang my hat? Trees and snow?

Home, sweet home. Photo by Nancy Cater.
Home, sweet home. Photo by Nancy Cater.

Maybe the consistent factor here is comfort. It’s one of those words that means something different in every conversation, I’m beginning to believe. People, as a group, do an awful lot of silly things for comfort. In my line of work, people are constantly moving around the world, and many of them drag their belongings around with them. I think I missed out on that part of my development as a functioning adult. Well, I say “silly”, but that isn’t entirely fair. It just seems so to me because it doesn’t offer me any comfort to have knick knacks or rugs that I recognize. I can’t fathom dragging more than two suitcases behind me as I move on to my next destination. And I know that seems ludicrous to most people.

There is a part of me (a small part, mind you) that believes in never getting too comfortable in life. That sounds weird, I know, but I don’t mean basic life comforts like food and shelter. Of course I want to sleep on a bed and not a pile of hay, and I like eating meals in restaurants, and having laundry facilities within a couple of feet. I mean the things that come after all that, when you’re living a life without discomfort. Just like money or possessions, comfort seems to be something that humans never seem to get enough of.

Uncomfortable desires

Comfort is something that morphs into new shapes as you get more of it. As you climb the ladder at work, you make more money and buy a bigger home and get more things. Was there anything wrong with your first home? Probably not. It just wasn’t big enough suddenly. I live in a fair-sized apartment these days. Just my partner, myself and our two cats. I don’t like it. It’s too big, I don’t want to fill it with stuff, and I don’t want to clean it (I could pay someone a very small amount to clean it for me, but my working-class guilt is a whole other topic). I’m not sure where the expectation came from that I would need such a place. Did I make that happen? Did my company, which provided me with the place, make it happen? Either way this is what I’m supposed to want, I’m sure. If I fill it with nice furniture and items from Ikea that really reflect who I am as a person, I’ll be more comfortable. Right? RIGHT?

Choosing the right direction in life can sometimes be difficult. Photo by Nancy Cater.
Choosing the right direction in life can sometimes be difficult. Photo by Nancy Cater.

In my bravest moments, when I’m not afraid to admit things to myself, I know I’m ungrateful. To have a job that provides me with the money to buy the things that bring comfort – and to have the luxury to wonder about such things – is something I should appreciate because I have the good fortune to do so. But I’m a fraud. I don’t want to live in an oversized place filled with stuff I don’t need. I want one of those little mini-houses in the middle of a small city that miraculously has trees all over the place. I’m a liar when I smile and nod as people tell me about their new home they’ve upgraded to, or the meditation journey they’ve just got back from, or the new self-help method that’s really helping them on their path to self-discovery. The deep eye-roll I want to let rip would be socially unacceptable.

Being deeply unhappy in a place that provides me with things I’m supposed to expect from life is a hard feeling to defend. It may even be completely unjustifiable to not want more comfort when given the opportunity. But whatever: I think I’ll decide for myself when I’ve got enough and just suffer the raised eyebrows and clutched pearls.

Editor’s note: If you would like to respond to this or any article on TheIndependent.ca, or if you would like to address an issue we haven’t yet covered, we welcome letters to the editor and consider each of them for publication in our Letters section. You can email yours to: justin at theindependent dot ca. Not all letters will be printed, but all will be read.


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