I glanced down at the floor of my litter-strewn car, noticing not for the first time the photoshopped face of a realtor smiling up at me from a flyer advertising yet another apartment I couldn’t afford.
I sighed, silently reminding myself that it was time to shovel the trash out of my car. I couldn’t be reminded every time drove anywhere that by Southern California standards, I was basically poor.
I knew that the cost of living in Orange County was higher than most in the continental United States, with the exception of maybe Manhattan. That being said, when I moved from Ohio over two years ago, I somehow never noticed the sting of want as acutely as I have over the past month.
Most of May was spent fruitlessly searching for an apartment either closer to the beach or closer to work. My daily commutes were slowly killing me. And my car. What I didn’t realize is that the search for a new place to call home would also kill my sense of happiness.
Everything was too expensive. Or too bourgeois (but really…is there such a thing? For my checking account maybe). Or too dodgy. Way too dodgy. Did I mention how expensive everything was?
Which led me to the realization…that I am in fact poor. Now, I realize that I’m not. I realize what I am describing is a #firstworldproblem, so save me the lecture about the kids in Africa. I KNOW about the kids in Africa. But the reality is, if you’re reading this, chances are you live in a first-world country too. Which means you actually do have to combat some non-problems (that still seem like really big problems) that usually come sneaking around when you start comparing what you have with what you don’t.
Like an apartment in a gated community that has its own Starbucks, mini-mart, three swimming pools (two for adults only), a free personal trainer, a petting zoo, and your own personal Captain America to serve as a security guard. Or maybe just an apartment that actually comes with a parking space and isn’t infested with ants and the sounds of shifty neighbors cooking meth. You know, one of those places where the exhaust doesn’t get stolen from your car in the middle of the night. Probably to melt down and make into meth. I don’t know guys, I didn’t watch Breaking Bad.
God continued to close doors and hem me in to where I was supposed to be, and as He did I spiraled in and out of self-pity. I began to second guess my job and if I should really live in California. After all, it wasn’t economical. I could pay a mortgage on my own house in the Midwest for the price of my rent. What was I doing with my life? I moped. I moped a lot. Because I obviously had to be doing something wrong if I couldn’t afford the apartment complex with three pools. Or the one without the ants.
As I was commiserating with one of my friends, he randomly asked me, “Hey, what’s happier than a three-legged dog?”
I thought for a moment. Trying my best to come up with something ridiculous, but finally settling on the most logical choice, “A four-legged dog?”
“Exactly. You should write about that,” he replied with what I believed to be another joke.
“Oh sure. What would the moral be? If you want more and want your body to be different that you’re right to feel that way?” I retorted sarcastically and not at all melodramatically.
“That is literally the worst interpretation ever,” he laughed.
“I quite like it… Gosh, I am a dark person,” I sulked, being only able to see the story from my residence located firmly in The Land of Want.
“The whole point is that the three-legged dog doesn’t even know having a fourth leg would be awesome.”
I stared at him blankly, the pieces clicking into place.
“…So the dog with three legs is happy…because good ol’ Tripod isn’t comparing himself to anything or anyone,” he finished, continuing to fill in the blanks for me.
I felt annoyingly convicted. And with his stupid joke about three-legged dogs, I realized something that I should have realized weeks before.
Comparison and envy were destroying my contentment. No matter if I have a little or a lot, three legs or four, if I stopped looking around at all the things I didn’t have and couldn’t afford, then my focus is placed back on being thankful for what I do have.
Before the apartment search began, I paid very little attention to where other people lived. I didn’t realize what other people could or couldn’t afford, because what I had suited me just fine. It wasn’t until I took my focus off of what I did have, to what I thought I wanted, that my happiness began to crack.
I’m reminded of Eve in the Garden of Eden. She had everything. A smoking hot husband, several pet lions that didn’t try to eat her (I’m assuming), and direct communication and fellowship with God. The world was perfect, sinless. Life was freaking great. The greatest it’s ever been. And yet Satan got her to tear her focus away from all of what she did have, to the ONE thing she didn’t. Eat the fruit. Then you’ll have everything…
Buy the apartment, then you’ll have everything. Sew on a fourth leg, then you’ll have everything.
But is “everything” really enough?
I know that our brains are a bit larger than a dog’s. Well, most of us anyway. So, you’re probably going to notice when someone has something that you think you want or need. It’s inevitable. You have eyes. Probably. I’m assuming if you’re reading this you do. Not the point.
The point is, where you decide to place your focus makes all the difference. I spent a month focusing on what I thought I needed to be happy, instead of focusing on what I already have and knowing that possessions won’t ever make me happy. Don’t start the comparison game. Don’t pack up your stuff and move into The Land of Want. Be the three-legged dog, consciously choosing to be unaware of what others have so you can fully revel in what has been given to you. That is happiness.