“There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, the other is getting it.” Oscar Wilde
Trevor and Stephanie sat in the coffee shop across from the financial building and watched people in suits walk briskly in and out like ants at an anthill. This was their Tuesday ritual; both of them worked strange hours (he was a night custodian at the high school, and she was a bar tender), and this was the only day they both had off. They would catch up on their sleep, and then meet up here for some early afternoon coffee, watching the business people go about their days, dreaming about what it would be like to have a job inside that building.
Today, the reality of the situation seemed to catch up with Trevor. He enviously watched men anxiously adjust their ties and clutch at their briefcases as they scurried about, completely oblivious to the fact that they were being spied upon. Those rich bastards, with their expensive watches and luxurious cars. Trevor imagined this morning they had woken up in their big homes and looked out over their giant back yards as they had gotten ready for work, kissed their fashion model wives goodbye, and remote-started their BMWs on their way to the expansive garage where they were restoring classic cars.
It frustrated him to no end that they had it all, and he had to struggle all week long just to afford this damn coffee. He unglued his gaze from the people across the street and noticed that Stephanie was looking at him with a quizzical expression on her face. She arched an eyebrow and a smirk toyed at the edge of her lips.
“Something the matter there, big guy?” she asked.
Trevor sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “No. Yes. I don’t know…”
Stephanie set down her coffee, and tilted her head to the side. Concern suddenly etched itself across her face. “What’s on your mind?”
Trevor sat back and played with his mustache for a second as he searched for the right words. He quickly sat forward once more, nervously drumming his fingers on the lid of his coffee cup.
He sighed again. He was far to scatterbrained at the moment to be having this conversation, but Steph wasn’t going to just let this go, so he needed to come up with an answer for her. She reached across the table and placed her hand on his, settling the rapid movements of his hands. Oddly enough, this simple act calmed him enough to formulate his thoughts into sentences. He took a breath.
“We sit here week after week, fantasizing about what our lives would be like if we had those people’s jobs. We dream about the houses we’d buy, the families we’d have, and the wonderful lives we’d lead, and once we’re done with our coffee, we walk our happy asses back out into the real world and continue on with our meager existences. Don’t you ever wonder if there’s…more?”
Stephanie squinted and smiled softly. “More how? Are we having an existential conversation about the meaning of life, or is this about something specific?”
Trevor furrowed his brow and pursed his lips, staring a hole into his cup. He traced his finger along the cups design as he spoke.
“I mean, we spend so much of our time trying just to stay alive. We work our asses off trying to make enough money to get by; do you ever wonder if there’s more to our lives than just survival?”
Steph took a sip of her coffee and shook her head. “I’m not sure I understand what you mean. I consider what we’re doing now to be more than just survival. We’re sitting here in relative safety, enjoying, or at least trying to enjoy, a cup of warm java. There is no urgency or necessity to this moment, is there?”
Trevor shifted uncomfortably.
“Well, no…but…those people across the street, they make all that money, and they are able to buy such nice things with it; I can practically guarantee you that none of them even bats an eye when the bills come due. They don’t wonder if they’ll have enough money to eat next week. They don’t have a care in the world.”
Stephanie leaned forward.
“Trev, you can’t honestly believe that. You see the super-stressed looks on those people’s faces. They may not have our struggles, but I’m sure they have plenty of their own.”
Trevor laughed dryly. “Yeah, well, I have yet to come across a problem where money wasn’t the answer. If they have do have problems, they sure as hell have the answers, too.”
Stephanie sighed and shook her head. “Money isn’t everything. You can’t buy happiness, you know.”
Trevor squinted at her. “Are you sure about that? Cuz it sure seems like you can. Those rich pricks can afford whatever they want, and I’d be willing to bet they’re pretty happy with their lives.”
Stephanie bit her lip and looked out the window. She absent-mindedly reached up and twirled her ponytail around her fingers as she thought. Eventually, she turned back to Trevor.
“Money can buy you things, Trev; it can buy you a lot of things, but none of those things is going to keep you happy. They might keep you entertained for a while, but being entertained isn’t the same as being happy.”
“Oh yeah? What exactly would you call being happy, then?”
Steph took another sip of her drink and smirked. “The thrill of the chase.”
Trevor blinked and shook his head in bewilderment. “What on earth does that mean?”
“Think about what Thomas Jefferson wrote; every man, woman, and child has the natural right to the pursuit of happiness. He doesn’t say we have the right to happiness, just the pursuit. We have the right to chase the things that make us happy. I think it’s that chase, that journey, that really makes us happy.”
Trevor sat back and crossed his arms. “So you think that happiness is, what, an illusion?”
Stephanie shook her head quickly. “Not by a long shot; I think happiness is more than just good feelings. I think real happiness is recognizing the good in both the peaceful, enjoyable moments, as well as the hectic, painful ones.”
Trevor nodded slowly and stroked his mustache again.
“You’re starting to sound like Confucius all of the sudden.”
“Well, maybe Confucius had a point, then. Perhaps it’s not getting what we want that makes us happy, but living out a life where we pursue various things that bring us joy that makes for a happy life.”
Trevor leaned back and digested her words for several minutes. They sat in silence, gazing out the window once more. A question bubbled to the surface of Trevor’s mind.
“So, let me ask you this,” he said. “Do you think it’s possible to have everything you want all the time and still be happy? According to your definition of happiness, part of what makes us happy is going after those things we enjoy. Is it possible to have the perfect job, the perfect life, and all the money you could ever want, and be truly happy?”
“Not a chance,” she replied firmly. “You see, part of what makes the good things in our lives so pleasurable is the experience of living through those crappy moments. Bad things, difficult times, and whatnot all contribute to our happiness. Sure, having everything you want in the world would be great, but it would get boring eventually. Either you would get depressed because there was nothing else to achieve and experience in this life, or you would shrivel up and die. Without some sort of shadow, the bright moments become almost meaningless.”
They sat quietly for a few minutes as what Steph said sank in. After what seemed like hours, she spoke again.
“You know, it’s almost better to not have what you want. If you don’t get what you want, you might be pissed off or upset for a while, but you eventually try again. You keep trying, keep hoping, and keep living. Once you get what you want, though, what else is there to live for? Everything becomes bland, and you run around like those people across the street, stressed out and worried, trying desperately to find the next thing that will make you happy. We’re all addicted to our happiness and success, and the more we have, the more it takes to keep us in that state of bliss. Eventually, we will run out, and we have to come down. I can only imagine what it’s like to come down from being that high up…”