You are driving along on a bright sunny day and what looks like water appears in the road ahead of you. As you move closer, it disappears, only to reappear in the next dip in the road. But is it water? Of course not. It is a reflection of the midday sky. It is a mirage.
If you chase it looking to satisfy your thirst, it will only lead you to trouble. You will end up lost and spent, confused and disoriented, unable to figure out where life went wrong. It went wrong the minute you started chasing illusions and hallucinations instead of what is real and certain.
Many of the things we chase in life are nothing but mirages. That perfect boyfriend; that woman to satisfy our fantasies; that storybook marriage; an ideal career; the magazine-cover home. These will never do the trick; they can’t satisfy. So it is no wonder that some people can’t be happy: They can’t be satisfied with their house, family, marriage, or career as they are always chasing after something new, better, or more perfect.
Here is an example: A man received an invitation to his high school reunion. After some initial reluctance, he decides to go. And why not? He feels pretty good about it, because he feels good about his life. He’s aged, sure, but he’s looking alright. He has a lovely wife he cherishes. His kids are busy with their own pursuits. He has a successful career, good cars, and a nice home. He can go back to his old stomping grounds with a sense of pride and accomplishment.
But when he gets to the reunion it appears as if his old friends have surpassed him. They look more fit, younger even. Many have traded in their starter spouses for younger, hotter upgrades. They have smarter kids too, all at Ivy League schools. They make more money than he does. They drive newer cars and live in nicer homes. At the end of the night the man leaves the reunion feeling miserable.
What changed in this man’s life in the course of a three hour reunion? Absolutely nothing. His wife is just as lovely, his kids just as accomplished, his career and life just as satisfying as they all once had been. The change was only in his perspective.
He forgot the biblical lesson of “being content with what he had,” and glimpsed a monstrous mirage that robbed him of his satisfaction. No, I’m not saying we shouldn’t dream, seek improvement, or not reject mediocrity. We shouldn’t “settle,” but we must settle down if we want to be happy.
Richard Alpert, known as Ram Dass, says that desire is “like ice cream.” One has to keep eating it faster and faster, because it is constantly melting. It never fulfills us. I think he is right. Those things that melt away only leave us dry, hungry, and lonely. Worse, they lead us away from the real joy that is already ours.