For instance, when I brought home Morgan, our 185 pound English mastiff and the dog of a lifetime, I spent at least a week fending off a sinking feeling that I had ruined my life (and this dog's), and that it would never, ever work out! It did--Morgan eventually joined me in my therapy practice, working with me and with my trauma-survivor clients on a daily basis. She was enormous, she slobbered, but she could sense a painful emotion a mile away, and loved nothing better than to rest her head on someone's knee and look up at them with the big, sincere gaze of a mastiff, telling them without words that she would never have treated them that way.
Of course, there is a difference between a dog, a living, breathing animal who can give and receive love, and stuff. I have a long and bitter history around buying stuff--I don't like to.
So ubiquitous has been the experience of buyer's remorse that I have learned to question closely every craving I have, every keen desire for yet another Thing. Shoes, cars, books, computers, houseplants and appliances... whatever the Thing is that I'm contemplating bringing into my world, I stare at the decision for as long as I can, fending off purchases as long as possible.
I ask myself, endlessly, "If you get this nifty new Thing, six months from now, will your life be any better? When the money is spent and the novelty has worn off, will this actually make you any happier?"
For me, at least, when I'm honest with myself the answer almost always turns out to be "no." And then I'm left holding my remorse. (And maybe a big bill.)
We Americans love our cars. And I admit it--I drive mine until they are unreliable hulks, real beaters, and when I get one that I can be pretty sure won't break down and strand me on the side of the road--maybe even one that has AC can actually cools the car--I like it. I like riding around in a new car as much as the next person.
At least, on the day I bring it home.
But six weeks later, stuck in traffic or driving home after working late? My satisfaction in life is no higher with the new car than it was with the old beater. (Though admittedly higher than it would be stuck at the side of the road.)
It's that way with almost everything: new outfits, faster computers, even (though I'm ashamed to admit it) the new book purchases I convince myself I can't live without. Six months later, I might as well have tossed my money in a well for all the satisfaction it has given me. And I'd very much better have saved it, or given it away.
Stuff doesn't make me very happy, at least, not for very long.
I asked myself these same questions when we were looking at buying our house two years ago. I asked myself if it would really make any difference to me, say, on a day when I was home with the flu, or came home late and weary... if on a steamy August afternoon or a frozen November morning, it would actually make the least difference to how I feel to be alive, knowing that there were woods behind the house, or that it was built in the mid 19th century, or had a garden outside.
I worried I might find it did not.
I was wrong.
I love living in the country. I love my commute, past the small town beach where I swim in the summers, under the red pines that stride in even rows back to the chaotic jumble of the real woods. I love hearing geese honking overhead as I pin my laundry onto the clothesline each week. I love my multi-layered view from the dining room window: phosphorescent-green lettuce growing on the windowsill flaming against the deep rose color of an autumn shrub just outside, hemlock tree jutting upwards in the middle distance, and behind it, down the hill, the vehemence of blazing oak and maple leaves catching the last of the afternoon sun.
I love my sloping ceilings; I love the deep blackness of the sky overhead at night, and the stars that are farther and cooler than they seem in the city. I love watching "my" oaks reemerge from the cluttered foreground of swamp maples and poplars as the lesser trees shed their leaves, and I love having the ability to plant and love and care for seedling trees of my own.
Even last winter, when pain from my back would not let me sleep, I loved to pace from room to room, chilled with night, waiting the emerging gray of morning, with the line of pine trees marking out the old boundary to this property. Even as I have worked long and hard hours this fall, with scarce the energy to climb my stairs to bed at night, never mind hike in the woods I love, I have been glad.
It may have taken the economic meltdown of 2008 to make it clear to everyone: a house is not necessarily a good investment. What goes up can indeed go down.
I am remorselessly grateful to be home.