Life is Banal: Isn't that Fabulous?

Typically, life is mundane and you probably didn't need me to alert you to the fact. Just think of the vast and numerous economies that have been fabricated and marketed to alleviate the excruciating boredom that some folks live with daily. I've been lucky in the sense that my mind tends to wander, taking me places via curiosity, thankfully keeping me from any kind of debilitating, introverted implosion. Others, the not-so-lucky sorts, have succumbed to the sirens of sulking and self-loathing. I've been that sort before, too.

So, life can be pretty boring. Fine. Taking out the trash, scooping the cat litter, walking the dog, doing the dishes -- they're all tedious and tiresome and if you let them, these tasks and the inherent drudgery could just be the ballast that sinks you into some form of interminable depression.

But if you try, and it's not that hard, you'll see that the sum of these activities, these daily challenges and chores, is life, and in some strange sense, that's a relief. There can be a subtle, quiet pleasure in the simplicity of it all. What's more, if every single day were filled with monumental events like graduation, marriage, childbirth, and the like, then just imagine the pressure that would befall you every morning. For me, the relief is in the satisfaction of knowing that today will hold at least some mild excitement. But, even if it doesn't, that's not going to be all that bad.

Maybe at the heart of all this is the midwestern sentiment expressed so succinctly in the following, oft-uttered reply to most greetings:

"How ya' doin'?" someone will ask, and you'll reply, "Not too bad."

And that's the honest truth. Really, life could always be a good deal worse. In Sweden, the sentiment has its own dedicated word -- lagom -- which means something close to "good enough". Okay, but clearly some out there are not going to settle for just fine and dandy and they're going to want more.

This brings me to the next attitude that people adopt to make it through the day, one I can relate to, but only barely. I'll call it the slant of the "hyperbolic sharer". This is the guy who comes back to work on Monday and when people ask about his weekend, he goes into some envy-inducing monologue about how spectacular were the things he did:

"It was fabulous. We took out the sunfish and criss-crossed the bay, doin' like six or eight knots, and just had a tremendous time! My kid did an amazing job at the tiller! You should've seen her! Just wonderful! How about you? What did you get up to?"

That's just fine; I'm happy for the guy, sincerely. But, did you notice all the exclamations? This is the person who's living life while consciously making every day something to rave about and brag about, like he or she had been just plain waiting for you to ask. I have nothing personal against this type of person, but this guy really makes it tough to measure up when you start to tell about your walking the dog or taking the kid to the playground.

Along with the happy-go-lucky, glass-half-full optimism of the "hyperbolic sharer", there is an accompanying sense that this person is better than you as a result of his or her actions which are always so supremely excellent and thus deeply gratifying and fulfilling on every level. When we converse, we compare ourselves to one another, consciously or not, and mostly this is natural and harmless. However, when the joyful, ego-maniacal narcissists come around, they can have a fairly toxic impact on others who aren't so self-assured.

In the end, if the Swedes were to weigh in between the aficionados of banality and the self-promoting embellishers, you probably could guess what they would say. Some statuesque blonds would smile, only slightly, and calmly suggest:

"Follow the Buddhists on the Middle Way and be happy...but not too happy. Lagom."

1 comment:

  1. I'd like to add a few thoughts on the subject of this "always-on-the-bright-side" type of person.

    I may not have given enough space to the positive aspects of having such a person around. At times, this cheerful, upbeat guy or gal can really have a significant, uplifting effect on his or her immediate audience.

    Being optimistic is almost always good, something that helps temper the almost constant presence of negativity in life. The news, the complaints, the gripes and moans at work, the piss-poor attitudes coming from every direction -- sometimes the "hyperbolic sharer" can provide us with a needed escape from the drudgery and weight of day-to-day events.

    However, this type of person, sunny and invigorating as he or she can sometimes be, must balance enthusiasm with some degree of sensitivity. This is not meant to be a touchy-feely kind of mandate, but rather it is a suggestion to be thoughtful of others who may or may not be having an equally inspired, "golden" day.

    I guess that clears that up a bit. Thanks for checking back.


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