This week I was really struggling with a parenting issue, and I found myself feeling stressed and angry. I was mostly OK with how I had handled the situation, but not completely, and I was feeling all kinds of other things, including but not limited to: fear, fury, worry, shame, regret, blame, frustration, annoyance, and irritation. In case you think that many of these are similar, they are not. Each is at a slightly different point on the anger spectrum and each is very special to me and has its place in the repertoire of my emotional cholent.
I decided I needed some (14 degree) air, so I grabbed my car keys and headed out to Target to buy a few items on my shopping list like cake mix and eyebrow pencil. Somehow, in a miraculous feat that I have yet to figure out, I often go to Target for plebeian items and mysteriously find myself in the shoe section, which is exactly what happened.
I noticed that all the winter shoes and boots were 30-70% off. This was clearly a divine sign that a new pair of boots was my spiritual destiny, but how could I justify the purchase, considering all the boots that are already in my closet, all cute? (If you are a man reading this, and your eyes are starting to glaze over, please substitute whatever men use for retail therapy. I don’t know what they are.)
Then God dropped a beautiful idea in my head: I had just endured a painful and exhausting encounter with my kid. I tried my hardest to be calm, wise and patient. I deserved a reward. At $19.99, it was a pretty modest reward, but that was OK, I know how to be content with my lot. These boots, in fact, were a mitzvah, a way to motivate myself to continue to persevere in the face of provocation and adversity! These boots were holy!
I paid for the cake mix, eyebrow pencil and boots, feeling quite joyous, and considered the bigger message here.
I’m the first to teach and preach that money can’t buy happiness. Happiness is long-term contentment that never comes from stuff; we know this. Happiness is serotonin and peacefulness and serenity. But I’ll tell you what money can buy: stuff. And stuff has the power to bring us a little jab of dopamine. Dopamine is a quick rush that you get from biting into that first crunchy French fry or the first chip in the bag. Dopamine is that flush of honor, pleasure, or excitement that can become addictive.
Both types of joy are important to the human condition, but it’s critical to determine what each one is and what its limitations are. See, dopamine doesn’t last. You need another hit, another chip, another flush, while serenity is more of a constant, low-key good feeling.
Retail therapy, I am perfectly well aware, is not going to bring me serenity, and that’s OK. I have other avenues for serenity: Torah wisdom, friendship, enough sleep. The stuff you can’t experience with your five senses. But the good Lord definitely created Target for a reason, and for me that’s dopamine: the rush of reward I give myself for a job well done. It won’t last, it won’t bring long-term joy, and I know this and that’s OK.
Because there will always be another parenting moment, another shoe sale, another mystifying unplanned foray into the Target shoe aisle. Hey – I’m not complaining. I’ll take my joy wherever it may be found.