18th-century Europe was considerably different than it is today. Both in its norms and customs. For one thing, the entire country of Russia used a calendar that was 11 days behind Western Europe.1 Meaning that when going to Russia, you needed to set your calendar back 11 whole days.
May 1st for Western Europe was April 20th in Russia.
Another one you may already be aware of is marriage. Marriage was weird back in the day. Uncles marrying nieces, 15 year-olds marrying people in their mid-thirties, cousins courting one another. The rule was, there were no rules. So long as you raised your status in the process, no option was off the table.
Times may be different now, but the desire for happiness hasn’t changed. Here are four truths that will prevent you from being happy, in this century or the next.
1. Source: Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie
I don’t want to be here
I sat on a bench. Tourists passed by. Some climbed aboard a sightseeing trolly. Others took pictures in front of it. Don’t ask me why. Others crowded the shops in search of their next souvenir. And there I was in the thick of it. Annoyed to be there.
This was a waste, I thought to myself. I had taken the day off to go on an adventure. To explore someplace new and exciting. Where I ended up was far from it.
I was uninspired, unengaged, and terribly bored.
And then it dawned on me. I was being judgmental. Judgmental of myself, the people around me, the situation I was in. I had recently finished Loving What Is by Byron Katie and saw this moment as a perfect opportunity to apply the lessons I had learned. Her book teaches something I’ve struggled with for a long time: non-judgment and acceptance.
As I sat on the bench, doing the work, my perspective began to change. The afternoon felt lighter. I could smile and it wasn’t forced.
I know it’s difficult, but practicing acceptance is a powerful way to enjoy where you are.
The actions of a dying man
Morrie had a tough lot in life. He had a disease that was going to kill him. He was losing control over his body every single day. Things were not going well for Morrie. But for a dying man, he sure seemed happy.
Morrie’s disease was brutal. He was suffering from ALS. He could have complained, pushed everyone away, and cried for the remainder of his time. No one would have blamed him. And he wouldn’t have been the first to take that route.
But he didn’t like to see his illness as some terrible thing.
Rather, he was grateful for it. Because unlike those who get hit by a bus, he had plenty of time to say goodbye. He could tie up loose ends, say all his loving farewells, and still have some moments left for himself.
Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom is the true story of Morrie’s final days. But in it are, ironically, lessons for a better life. One of which is: find something to be grateful for in every situation. Not only will it make you feel better, it will make you live better as well.
A better marriage
Let’s return back to 18th-century Europe for a moment. It was a time rich with conflict. Countries constantly fought one another. Rulers died and new ones took their place. Then those rulers were overthrown by new ones. There was turmoil and uncertainty around every corner.
I wonder… there’s surely no way to tell but… what if… all that anger and strife was caused by… marriage. Gasp.
But not marriage as we see it today. Marriage for power. One where you marry your teenage daughter off to a creepy older Duke so you could rise in rank. What would the result of such an occurrence be? A resentful daughter? Probably. A strained relationship with her? Probably. A tense relationship between her and her older husband? Probably.
A whole bunch of anger, frustration, and hurt in the hands of military leaders? Probably.
It may be a stretch, but when you choose power, wealth, and status over fulfillment, war breaks out. At least in your mind and body.
The obligations of a spy
Virginia was expected to be a housewife. Had she been less determined, that would have been her fate. Society certainly pressured her enough. Her mother certainly pressured her enough. But it wasn’t to be. Virginia Hall had other plans for her life.
A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell tells the true story of Virginia Hall. A US citizen turned British secret agent during WWII. Behind enemy lines in France, she organized jailbreaks, supply runs, and underground networks.
She made a dent in history. And she did it by rallying against the expectations of others.
It’s not an easy thing to do. Often unconsciously, we bow to societal norms without a thought. When you turn 21, you feel obligated to drink. When your child has a birthday, you feel obligated to throw a party. But rarely do we question if we actually want to drink. Rarely do we ask that two-year-old if she even wants a party.
We do things because they are assumed of us. But had Virginia done that, her life, and possibly the outcome of WWII, would be vastly different. So question your motives. Ask yourself why you are doing that thing. Is it because you want to? Or is it because it’s the expectation of you to do so?
If it’s not adding fulfillment to your life, why do it?
The four problems I described are not easy to overcome. They plague most of us. However, transcending them is key to a more meaningful life. One with less frustration and more joy. It may seem like a difficult journey, but it is possible. Use the books I cited above as jumping-off points.
For your reference once again, four things that will enhance your life are:
- Practicing acceptance and non-judgment.
- Finding something to be grateful for in every situation.
- Pursuing fulfillment above all else.
- Doing things because you want to, not because of outside expectations.