Though we may sometimes feel like hard hats would be helpful, happiness isn’t a road construction project. Metaphorically, it’s transportation related — you know, it’s the journeys we take, traversing the highways and byways of life. We’re never finished — until, of course, we’re really finished. (Hmmm, maybe happiness does resemble road maintenance after all …)
In any case, I’ve always appreciated the highway signs suggesting we chill out about the temporary inconvenience of driving delays and focus instead on the “permanent” improvements the highway crew is working so hard to create. Very positive attitude, very zen. I like it.
Those signs have been on my mind lately, because I’m in the process of pushing through a personal “inconvenient” situation on the road to more-or-less permanent improvement — an improvement which is also, not coincidentally, a tiny drop in the ocean of changes we need for a happy, healthy planet.
My personal/collective temporary inconvenience has to do with weatherizing our house. Reluctantly, I finally started the weatherization process by taking advantage of a free, community home energy visit. I expected the visit to be unpleasant, which it was, even though the two energy experts were rational and personable grown-ups. But sealing my house to minimize our consumption of fossil fuels, and maximize the effectiveness of whatever energy sources we do use, is not my idea of a good time. It is expensive, aesthetically displeasing, and tedious. Financially and time-wise, it is certainly inconvenient — at least in the short term. Long term — that’s a different story. Long term, it is a definite improvement, even a moral imperative.
In short, here’s the moral of this story: happiness is something we sometimes have to invest in, sacrifice for, work on. There are a few subtexts — looking for silver linings, calming the ego down, appreciating what we have or have accomplished rather than what we think we’re lacking — but mostly, I’ve been mulling over the fact that building and maintaining happiness is not always easy or fun.
It’s a moral that matters, not just for ourselves, but for a happy planet. As I’ve been tossing this personal happiness issue around my brain, I’ve appreciated how much the “temporary inconvenience, permanent improvement” mantra also applies to fighting climate change. Certainly, much of the consumer-driven capitalist system is convenience-based — buying new rather than repairing, the ease of tossing clothes into a dryer rather than hanging them on the line, the comfort of seat warmers in the car during winter rather than tolerating the cold for a few extra minutes, etc., ad infinitum. Paper napkins and disposable plastic forks. Leaf blowers. For god’s sake, can’t we just use rakes? Or even let a few leaves decorate our sidewalks?
Of course, we all know — on some level, at least, we all know — the earth cannot afford our wasteful ways. Heck, we personally can barely afford our wasteful, spendthrift ways. But to change all this … oh, how inconvenient. How dreadfully inconvenient. (And, please be assured, I’m talking to myself as much as I’m talking to you!)
Clearly, we need to embrace the road sign view of inconvenience — it’s temporary. And then life gets better. Whereas, if we don’t embrace inconvenience … well, just look around at the state of our infrastructure. Might that slogan be, “Permanent convenience, permanent disrepair?”
Embracing the road to improvement doesn’t mean it won’t be a bumpy ride. The day of our unhappy home energy visit, I was close to tears most of the time. Every time the earnest conservation advocates found another energy-inadequate part of the house, I felt personally at fault. Silly ego. I can work on that. The real problem is, my house is a money pit. Being forced to face that fact yet again — when we are already strapped for funds — was painful. I tried to be grateful and focus on the good, but I could not stop wallowing in unhappiness.
But leaky houses are a major Vermont contributor to climate change; audits show homeowners how to tighten up their homes to stop wasting energy (fossil fuels or from other sources). I can’t just march for climate change; I have to do my best to walk that talk. Otherwise, among other things, I would be out of coherence with my own belief system, which would surely make me unhappy. In this case, that means insulating and sealing attic spaces where, coincidentally, raccoons have recently taken up residence.
In case you don’t know, raccoons are not nice and not cute when they invade your home. They are clever, persistent, brazen, destructive, and loud! In our case, they had ripped off siding to shimmy into our nice warm eaves — creating an opening to let them in and heat out. A double problem for us.
So here’s the silver lining: our weatherization efforts will eliminate the raccoons’ ability to get inside our house. Not only that, enrolling in an energy efficiency program means we will qualify for special tax incentives and low interest loans. When I called Efficiency Vermont to get started, I was reassured that we can tackle our long term weatherization project in a step-by-step, kaizen kind of way. It will still be inconvenient and expensive, but I’ll sleep so much better knowing I’m keeping the heat in — and the raccoons out!
Furthermore, the very nice contractor I spoke with would not buy into my self-pity party about my house. He kept re-framing the issue as an opportunity. “You have a lovely house in a great neighborhood,” he told me. “And now you have the opportunity to make it energy efficient.”
Isn’t the same thing true with the bigger planetary picture? Don’t we have a lovely planet in a great neighborhood? And if we embrace the inconvenience of “weatherizing” our planet, so to speak, what silver linings might we find along the way? I’m thinking now of metaphoric raccoons: the persistent and pernicious advertisements, come-ons, lures, and gimme’s that urge us to buy things we don’t need, with money we can’t afford to spend, for things that collectively are driving the climate change engine. Aaahhhh …. Just imagine! Our mental and literal attics would be so much cleaner and happier if we kicked those raccoons out, too. That’s an inconvenience and improvement I can definitely be zen about!