It’s difficult to argue on behalf of childhood trauma without seemingly encouraging parents to fuck up their kids’ formative years. However, many of my (self-identified) most neurotic friends grew up with an emotional and financial comfort that has sometimes left them ill-prepared for the jagged patches along life’s path.
I see the benefits of an un-pampered youth while watching folks ride Bird and Lime scooters around Atlanta and have developed a theory that the likelihood of someone crashing the device is increased if they attended private school when they were younger. There’s a blue-blooded air to many of the folks I see wiping out on a scooter, as if their affluent upbringing denied them a dexterity or ability to react to unexpected obstacles.
As awful as my adolescent and teenage years often felt in real-time – marked by familial drug addiction, poverty, high school truancy and hopelessness – they instilled a Zen that has stabilized me through layoffs, diagnoses and other turbulence of what grown folks like to call the real world. My more anal friends have expressed envy of what they consider my unflappability, which has made me appreciate how a challenging childhood can steel an adult from being overwhelmed by trivial angst or genuine setbacks.
One of the epiphanies that saved my young spirit was the realization that I could not postpone happiness until I was no longer poor. While society relentlessly suggested that money was a prerequisite for joy, if my family’s financial situation had to improve before I was happy, I would’ve been waiting for the impossible.
That mindset has since germinated into a broader worldview that resists believing my life will be so much better once A-B-C occurs. There will always be an L-M-N-O-P and an X-Y-Z, and we can either indefinitely defer bliss, or recognize there is joy to be seized in every letter and every day.
An online financial firm recently went viral when it extrapolated research from Purdue University into a marketing campaign and declared how much money a person needed to earn in order to “be happy” in cities across the U.S. I make less than half of the $121,000 threshold in Atlanta, and was surprised to learn that apparently I’ve been miserable for the almost 17 years I’ve lived here.
Liberating my sense of contentment from any economic indicators was almost more difficult than freeing myself from shame and secrecy regarding my sexual orientation. Capitalism makes LGBTQ culture associate personal satisfaction with labels, car models and condo addresses as much as any other Americans, and so I’ve felt as marginalized for my aversion to materialistic consumption more regularly than I have for being gay.
It’s odd how a “socialist” is a perpetual boogeyman in American politics, even for LGBTQ progressives who champion more moderate candidates in the Democratic presidential primary. The current occupant of the White House is the embodiment of American capitalism – possessing wealth, fame and power – and yet I have met dish-washing waitresses who exude more contentment with life than Donald Trump.
Our president is a burbling receptacle of the greed, corruption and perpetual dissatisfaction that comes from chasing money; but many Americans, including among Trump’s enemies, continue believing they are chasing happiness. If you think your happiness is currently unaffordable, you need to work harder at something other than your job.