I’m thinking it, so I say it. “I’m feeling guilty about not feeling guilty.”
“Oh boy…” comes from my right where my shrink is sitting, appraising my concerns. And not in a good way. As I lie on her couch, I cock my head in her direction, spewing anxiety.
“You don’t understand! I haven’t worked in months! And who knows if I will again! I should be worried about that. Really worried. Always have been. But this time, nothing – no worries. Nada! So I’m worried about that! Not worrying. What’s wrong with me?”
“Nothing,” she calmly states. “You haven’t run out of money.”
Yeah, right! She does understand! That’s why I keep coming here. She makes things so simple. Truth is, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve been working less and less for compliments and more and more for just plain payola, which, as she just pointed out, I still have.
Confession time: I gave up trying to be the super movie guy years ago. Now I want to be the super writing guy and I don’t need a job for that. What I need is more time at home, which is now in abundance. Problem is…
I return my gaze to black framed glasses on a pretty face. “Yeah?”
“What are you thinking?”
“What am I thinking? I’m thinking I’m in denial for the first time in my life.”
“About having enough money, things working out, staying happy, illusions like that.”
She jots a note. “Sounds like faith to me.”
“Faith? What’s that? No… I think I just got tired of worrying and talking about worrying and looking for worry-validation from other worriers. I think I got bored with the head space after six months of unemployment and trips to the doctor for worry related stuff.”
“So last week I met with my accountant and he said, ‘Irv, retire now. Use your pension to pay off your house and you’ll be okay.’ And that felt better than not being okay. So without money-worry hanging over my head, I’m waking up on the verge of actually being happy. Almost did yesterday. But I caught it in time.”
Her brows raise. “What does this tell you about yourself?”
Man…another surgical inquiry, one that makes you think, which I’m trying to do now.
“I don’t know… Maybe all that early ambition I had about being rich and famous wasn’t that ambitious after all. I didn’t fight for it, really. I didn’t make it more important than everything else, even thought I thought it should be. Guess I’m not that competitive.”
“And that’s a bad thing?”
“It is if you want to win.”
“Depends on what you think winning is.”
Winning… What IS winning? I ponder that and sit up for more disclosure.
“Well, if winning isn’t having fame, power and money, it better be about happiness. But I don’t have that, either.”
“Why?” she asks.
Why aren’t I happy… God, who knows! “Because I’m Jewish?” I suggest.
“‘Cause I’m a loser?”
“Wrong. Think some more.”
More? This is hard. “‘Cause I’m totally dim?”
“Getting close. Go on.”
I sigh, with a headache coming on. “Because I don’t know what happiness IS?”
My hands fly. “TELL ME ALREADY!”
“ALL RIGHT!” she yells back. The room settles. And so do I.
“All right…” comes out again, calmer now. “You’ve already told me. It’s about money. Happiness comes to you when you think everything is going to work out.”
“Not exactly,” I retort, totally confident about what I’m about to explain. “I said happiness comes to me when I KNOW everything’s gonna work out.”
“No it isn’t. Thinking is wanting. Knowing is having.”
“But things change from moment to moment,” she says, adjusting her glasses with equal conviction.
“So one moment you have it. The next, you loose it.”
“Not with Bernie, my accountant.”
“You could die tomorrow…or next month.”
“And a comet could explode the Earth.”
“You could get cancer. Your wife did.”
“Whoa! Not fair!”
“YOU brought up denial.”
Now I’m miffed. “Jesus! What’s your point?!”
“My point is,” she emphatically continues, “that all your decisions are based on assumptions, real or not. Some assumptions give you confidence, some make you insecure. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself, Where do my assumptions come from?”
“Sure. The Huff Post and The New York Times…”
“Or Fox News and Rush Limbaugh,” she adds, “It’s whatever you choose to validate your IDEAS. And once catalogued in your brain, you assign those ideas a probability scale. Some ideas you believe have a high probability of working out and some you don’t. The long shots make you worry.”
“Yeah, ‘cause I can’t control them. But other things I can. So what?”
“So what? Irv, you’ve been seduced by assumptions…assumptions about things you think you’re controlling, which gives you a false sense of confidence about making more of that happen. And sometimes you can do that. And then you relax and think, It’s all going well…until it doesn’t, and you go into shock.”
“I’m not in shock now.”
“No, because you haven’t run out of money. So days are pretty much the same, employed or not. But that could change tomorrow.”
“Thanks for reminding me.”
“I’m reminding you that YOU are the one deciding how you feel, based on a good day or a bad day. But even the bad days are not what they appear to be. Many times, what you think you want, is not what you really want. Many times a bad day is really a good day.”
“Take your job, for instance.”
“I don’t have one.”
“Not now. But isn’t that what you really want? Free time?”
“No. I want a job.”
“Think again. It’s not the job you want. It’s the money the job gives you. You said that. And that money can come from many sources, like writing. Wouldn’t you rather be a working writer?”
“Then you’re getting what you really want, which is time off to write your books with just enough income to do that. And that’s why you’re relaxed now. Things really ARE going according to plan.”
“But I’m still not happy.”
“You would be, if you allowed yourself to feel that way. But you don’t believe you deserve it. You think being happy is a job, that you have to work for it, that joy comes only at a great cost.”
“But that’s an delusion, Irv. Happiness is free.”
“I don’t have to earn it.”
“Not at all. But Irv, you are basing your happiness on achieving money and power, when in fact, that isn’t what you want. What you actually want is SECURITY and you’re conning yourself to believe power and money will give that to you. But it doesn’t. And on a very deep level you understand that. Deep inside you know that no one has control over anything.”
“Except what I believe.”
“Or what I choose to believe.”
“But I haven’t chosen to be happy, have I?”
“You haven’t allowed yourself to be happy. Stop feeling guilty about it. It’s okay to have fun and respect yourself for that.”
“Yeah… I guess.”
“You don’t sound convinced.”
“I know. I’m worried I’ll start worrying again.”
She stands, tipping her chair. “See you next week.”
I love that woman. She never gives up.