I was thinking about homeless people the other day.
Well, actually, I guess I was thinking about happiness and how it is such a completely subjective term.
No, that’s not quite right, either. It started with me thinking about how much I love and need my pets.
Or was it how important the little things are? Yeah, I think that was the seed that grew into this tangled vine of a blog post. Let me see if I can straighten this mess out a bit…
All the Small Things
There are these seemingly insignificant joys we get out of life that, in truth, have remarkably significant effects on our lives – on the very way in which we perceive our short existences and on the methods by which we personally define terms such as “happiness” and “despair”.
I am by no means what contemporary First World society would call “affluent” and I definitely know what it’s like to make the precarious two-week leap from paycheck to paycheck wondering if this is the jump that will result in a desperate, flailing-arms plummet into a sea of high-interest debt. I’ve had to borrow large sums of money from my parents before – an act that carries with it no small amount pride-pummeling.
Through it all, there has always been this recurring obstacle. Every time the brass tacks are examined (which is pretty much a prerequisite when making financial agreements), it always comes out that there are expenses that could be cut, freeing up funds for other “more important” affairs. And while this makes perfect sense on paper, the spreadsheet unfortunately lacks a slot for “personal happiness”. There is no column designating the monetary benefits of stress relief, no header entitled “Net Morale Variable”.
This is because there is simply no number one can put on (for lack of a better term) The Small Things. We can try, but we’d fail. I challenge the highest IQs among my readers to tell me what the unconditional love of my dogs is worth compared to food, license and veterinary costs and how that then weighs against my relatively low annual health care costs. Don’t forget to factor in the fact that I’m bipolar and a recovering alcoholic!
It’s not just that factors such as animal companionship or treating yourself to a fancy cup of coffee have no inherent monetary figure associated with them; it’s also, ironically, that these Small Things have inherent value that fully surpasses measurement. The cup of coffee might have, on paper, been worth $5.13, but the resulting boost in personal mental health might be priceless, especially if the day happened to be a mountain of shit from the get-go.
What’s more, nothing can effectively lower the high inherent value of The Small Things – not race, not gender, not sexual orientation, not even social status…
People love to judge homeless guys, like, “If you give him money, he’s just gonna waste it. He’s gonna waste the money.”
“Well, he lives in a box! What do you want him to do with it? Save it up and buy a wall-unit? Take a little run to the store for a throw rug and a CD rack?”
– Greg Giraldo, as quoted from Søren Nystrøm Rasted's, Underwear Goes Inside the Pants
I’ve always had a soft spot for homeless people because I honestly think that being hungry is one of the worst forms of physical suffering there is. Being cold is a very close second. And we could get into all kinds of debate about whether transient beggars deserve the help of hard-working stiffs, but what I started thinking about as I stared at Marley and contemplated this notion of Small Things was that there was no way I could look down upon a homeless man for spending 20% of the sawbuck I just gave him on a bottle of Thunderbird. How could I? Just as that latte got the single mother of three through another hell-on-earth Tuesday, so too did the fruity nip of fortified wine help the hobo cope with another cold night in a tent. The five bucks spent on coffee wasn’t going to make a significant contribution to the poor woman’s insufficient rent money any more than the two bucks spent on a cheap bottle of booze was going to turn the transient’s life around if properly invested.
It’s the same whenever you see a homeless person with a dog. Often people will choose not to help such a person, reasoning that the unfortunate sot could first help himself by giving up the panting, four-legged expense. This does not take into account The Small Things. It fails to factor in the most complicated column on our spreadsheet.
Every one of us has The Small Things in our lives. They are, of course, completely different for each individual but the concept is universal. The Small Things are invaluable and it is silly to expect people, no matter their situation, to give them up.
Regardless of how hard things were to ever get for me, I would have Marley by my side until the natural end and the numbers added to the spreadsheet as a result will simply have to be factored into the budget because, well, it would be downright foolish to turn down such a phenomenal deal!