I recently sat down to lunch with my career-driven suede-shoed friend of over 10 years, when he began to conspicuously interrogate and pass judgement on me, ending with the bombshell: "You're barking up the wrong tree, mate". About what exactly? Well I had the temerity to suggest I didn't have any long-term goals, and was mostly concerned with being content with what I had. This I expressed both in words and a general sense of insouciance. I was thus perceived to be steering wildly off course, and my pal, no doubt well-intentioned, decided I needed realigning.
The incident brought me to mind Albert Camus' The Outsider, in which the protagonist's indifference to things commonly treated with the utmost gravity is used to convict him of murder and see him executed. Am I a latter day Meursault, I pondered. Destined to meet a grisly end with my passive dissent against social norms? I saw visions of myself leading a nonchalance revolution, 100 protestors lazily waving banners of "I'm fine, maybe a bit hungry", "Just getting on with things", and "Can't complain" as we stroll leisurely down Whitehall.
Discontent is a fundamental part of the human condition, I've known this for a long time. People need a drive, ambition, something to 'get them out the bed in the morning'. But surely what gets people out the bed is just survival instinct? Anything else is just window dressing, concocted by a conscious mind desperate to ascribe some deeper meaning to our everyday actions, to bolster our ego and feeling of ourselves as acting agents with a purpose and place in the world.
But we do have a place in the world, there's no need to fashion one out of thin air. We're part of a wonderfully diverse and tolerant society, and an incredibly complex ecosystem. We fulfill our potential by simply living and working, and being nice to each other and the environment.
This simplicity is captured beautifully by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk whose evident metta (loosely translated as loving kindness) is so powerful as to occasionally dip into the realms of the ludicrous, but is nonetheless an inspiration to me (see 'A Love Letter to the Earth'). The look of wonder in his eyes as he gazes lovingly upon a leaf reminds me that what's most important to happiness is not setting innumerable goals, but fostering a deep connection with the people and things around you.
In other words, knock the carrot on the stick out the way and look around you, before it's too late.