We live by norms of happiness instead of our own rules. Today I realized that I prefer a partially filled water bottle. I am usually inclined to fill it up to the top, or at least let the water run until it is moderately above the label. But then adding flavor to it, it becomes more diluted, and it’s has less room to mix. Personally, I enjoy the stronger flavor better, and don’t need the entire volume of the bottle to quench my thirst. And if I am just carrying around water? A half filled bottle is a lot lighter, and I can always add more. Enough with the rationalization – the main point is that many little things that we do in life have become so habitual that we pass over examination that trying something differently may be very rewarding.
So I’m not hammering down the overused phrase “variety is the spice of life!” and encouraging you to examine and tweak absolutely everything you do because it’s not OK to have ritual and habit. Those are good things, actually”¦ when you’ve identified that you love something, and that it makes you happy, stick with it. I’m talking about little behaviors and habits that are done sans thought, like filling up a water bottle. I thought that more was always better, mostly because I never bothered to think that it might not be.
How can this apply to life? Think about what is customary, or expected, of a particular situation, identify what you value or makes you happiest about that situation, and maximize that, regardless of expectations or norms. Expectation isn’t what will necessarily make you happiest. The hard part, I think, is that a lot of these norms have become some engrained in us that we just do, and don’t think. Expectations ruin everything”¦ my favorite line of my Introduction to Visual Culture class my first year at Duke. I can think of another domain for which expectations can make a good pair of teeth sort of fuzzy.
Hold the weather analogy, friendships are like fruit I used to have the expectation of a friendship being all encompassing – spending an enormous amount of time together, and doing everything from eating to running, moving watching to hanging out and conversation. You know, we’d have the matching key chains and complete each other’s sentences. Perhaps this expectation stems from the fact that I have had intense friendships like this. Friendships come in different varieties, like fruit. I never thought about the idea that it’s OK to have a friend that you run with (when I feel like an orange), a friend that you go out to eat with (sometimes I’m more in the mood for an apple), a friend that you chat with on the way to class (kumquat anyone?). Sometimes I’m more hungry for insightful discussion, and I know who to talk to for that. And sometimes I want to do absolutely nothing and laugh at “that’s what she said” jokes, and a certain fruit tastes really good when I crave that. The danger comes in having the expectation of an everlasting gobstopper, or that gum from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory that turned Violet into a blueberry. One person shouldn’t, really can’t, be every fruit. Too heavy an expectation would feel sucky if you or I couldn’t meet it, and might strain our friendship. And this doesn’t imply superficiality, which is how I used to think about it, it means that we interact with many types of people, get a nice variety of flavors, and life is rich. It allows both people room to give and take, time and energy, and I think that this allows people to surprise you, be there for you when you least expect it, and I find those moments of a friendship to be most fulfilling.