The Collective Misery of the Americans and How to Cure It in This Lifetime, Part 2
You Can’t Do It Alone
The key point #2 – you don’t have to do it alone. You can’t do it alone. That’s where the evil dragon of systemic myth of individualism in the U.S. raises its ugly head – I have do it on my own.
Me. Me. Me.
Or it doesn’t count. Now I’m getting to my key point. All those who succeeded always had a person, or a tribe of people, to support them. It doesn’t have to be family. It can be a college friend, a lover, a mentor, an ex-husband. Anyone who really has your back and is there for you when the self-doubt is raging its worst tsunami dance. It is especially important with creative undertakings, because you need to enter the state of flow in order produce a “meaningful creative output”, as I call it. When you do that, you feel alive (we also feel that way when we are in love – with an adult, or your own child, when you know that their wellbeing is so much more important than yours. Again, the other comes first). Those are pretty much the only moments when we are truly alive. Nothing else is worth living for.
That’s the answer to the question of life’s meaning:
It’s your true calling or someone you can give (transform) your life for.
(Read Viktor Frankl on that. Man’s Search for Meaning).
The history of creative arts abounds with tales of phenomenal achievement (writing, painting, architectural design, business invention, scientific discovery) when the person who led the effort had his sidekick nearby at all times, was inspired and supported by her. It’s not the muse. It’s the person who has your back no matter what. When you don’t believe in yourself that other person does. Just to name a few: Henry Miller and Anais Nin, Rachel Carson and Dorothy, Eleonore Roosevelt and Hicks, Diego Riviera and Frida Kahlo. The list is endless. Many of those unions are romantic, but others are not. There are friends and mentors, mothers and children.. yes, children can and do encourage their parents to live their best, and true, life.
Let’s say, you don’t have a person like that in your life. According to research, 60% of Americans don’t have a confidante with whom to share one’s life’s joys and pains. Applied Marked Research projects that the Americans will be spending nearly $16BL annually on anti-depressants by 2023. The two numbers are connected, and the research confirms it. I’m pointing the obvious: if you don’t have a social support system, not only can’t you be creative, you can’t function. We need hugs, attention, interest in our lives. In order to bloom we need to be “watered” by the attention of others.
A fellow writer friend named her second novel TOUCH and it became a New York Times bestseller. Demand for massages is at an all-time high: we need to be touched. Doesn’t even matter by whom. To recoup, the fact that most American live in misery doesn’t need proof. The reason? We’re afraid to be vulnerable, to ask for help, to show weakness. The every-present “individualized success” will kill most of our souls by the time we’re 50.
When there is no family to help raise a child, when there is no government assistance with maternity leave, when everyone is for themselves, we slide to the curb of the beautiful road called life and we start to idle and burn out. Our children suffer. They internalize our strivings and “failures” and they will repeat the same scenario in their own lives. So what do we do? How do we cure the epidemic of misery in our lifetime? We need a systemic approach, clearly. But also, we can start in small steps. “If you want to change the world, start with the change within.” Take an inventory of your life. Ask yourself a few hard questions: Am I happy? When did I laugh last? When did my partner smile at me last? Are the kids OK? Am I OK? Who is my best friend?
As a writer and a psychologist, I love asking questions. Sometimes, I develop a better character. Sometimes I end up helping people, spontaneously inspiring them. But everyone has a story, and everyone’s is fascinating, often sad but mostly not. My story is that I’m a St. Petersburg-born and raised New Yorker of 30+ years who now lives part time in Cabarete, DR. In other words, I’m a global citizen.
Having lived in the Dominican Republic on and off for almost a year, I discovered that this Caribbean paradise gives birth to beautiful people who are proud, happy, and raw. Those are the key three qualities. Most are poor, but happy and proud none-the-less. The reason – the incredible social support system, the community. Teenaged pregnancies are not frown upon, each mother is supported by the whole tribe: the immediate family, the aunts and uncles (usually around six), and cousins (usually around 30 per person). How could you have a post-partum depression when your baby is celebrated by so many people who want to be involved, to help, to love?
To be. This is the key discovery about the Dominicans. They know how to be and they enjoy being. Being alive. Nod doing, like the Americans. (“How are you? I’m good. Busy.”) We equate busy with productivity and productivity with success, worrying about the wrong problems (what should I wear to a play date? Do I look fat?), ending up in misery.
In the DR, life is hard, for everyone, money is mostly lacking, the government has mostly screwed its own people in the last two decades by giving away the diamond mines to foreign investors, and selling the land for pennies to foreign real estate developers. What do the locals do? They struggle, yet they dance bachata, and sing along to every song on the radio, and celebrate women, and cherish babies. I have not met a single unhappy Dominican during my year of living here. They complain, yes. They hussle for money. But they are still happy. What I also noticed is that if the American expats allow themselves to be open, to become integrated with the local culture, to come out of their expensive villas in gated communities and join the real, raw, “primitive” life, they too start shedding the stress, the weight, the worry, the anxiety. When my best friend Jerry and I noticed this process in friends who visited me, we decided to form a company that helps people become their true selves within a week, usually starting on day four. We help people rediscover themselves, reconnect with the real person within, vulnerable, yearning to be understood and noticed, tired but still willing to take chances, to soar, to bloom.
We call it UNA VIDA. NO PLAN. Because, if we rewind to the Russian sayings at the start of this essay, We plan, but God re-plans. However, you can allow that re-planning become exactly the thing that you need the most. It will likely require a change – within you, like from a cocoon to a butterfly. All that’s needed for the change to occur is for you to be open to that change. You won’t know what the change is. You can’t force it. You just need to open up and be, and gradually you will become your true self. It sounds grand but it’s a very tangible, simple occurrence. When it takes place, the exhilaration is prevailing. You see it in people all around you. An expat who shed 20 pounds and 20 years because he fell in love, for the first time in years, with a local girl. Visitors, who got up on a surfboard or danced bachata for the first time. The daily sunrise. The daily sunset. The locals will cheer you on in your transformation, grateful for the money you spend in their country (never forget to tip – surfing instructors, kiteboarding teachers, waiters, drivers, cleaners. $10 USD is half a cab ride for you, yet it’s food for a few days for them).
To bring us up to a conclusion: to cure the misery we need to find our true selves. For that we need to start walking in the direction of fear, choose hope over fear and surround ourselves with people who will be our champions. To become open is hard. To make the process easier, one might buy a ticket to Puerto Plata (direct three-hour flight from NYC) and experience UNA VIDA. Where things happen without a plan, but according to a higher wisdom. And then, vamos aver – we shall see. And hope that the waves are good today.
Vica Miller is a native of St. Petersburg (Russia) and has been a New Yorker for three decades. She’s the co-founder (2021) of UNA VIDA. NO PLAN, a life transformation company in Cabarete, DR, and the founder (2009) and curator of the Vica Miller Literary Salons, New York City’s favorite chamber reading series held in private art galleries. Her first novel, INGA’S ZIGZAGS, was published in 2014 and is slotted for publication in Russia in 2021.