Can you be happy with what you have?
This is the question that Kelsea Ballerini seems to ask us in her song, What I Have.
We can sometimes dismiss country songs as being overly simplistic. But as Harlan Howard astutely said back in the 1950’s, it represents “three chords and the truth.”
In Ballerini’s song, she challenges the idea of “having” by making accessible more complicated concepts and phrases.
Her lyric “I’ve been comparing shiny new toys. It’s just the root of the thief of my joy” paraphrases a quote from President Theodore Roosevelt “Envy is the thief of joy.” Or consider her articulation of the somewhat wonky psychological term “hedonic treadmill” which refers to our inability to be happy with what we have because we’re always chasing the next thing. She writes “when you notice The Joneses can’t even keep up with the Joneses.” It’s simple all right. Simply brilliant.
The very idea of “having” has been co-opted to be most frequently associated with material possessions. Consider the term “the and have nots.” We diminish the agency and the lives of those who we consider “the have nots” because we fail to recognize that they have things that may be more important than a new car or big house – good relationships.
She levels this playing feel when she combines the material and the relational singing, “Cause I got a roof over my head, a warm body in bed.”
In our pursuit of happiness, the constant chasing of power or possessions, perhaps the the most crucial thing to have – which has the advantage of being free, is perspective.
My favorite lyric, “I got the air, good eyes to see, got so much more than I’ll ever need,” is both literal and figurative. What are we breathing in? How are we choosing to see our world?
A few days after discovering the song – a day in which several things did not break my way – I found myself on our school athletic fields at sunset. The gloaming red cascaded over the feathered clouds. I took a deep breath and reflected on the last verse in the song, “Even the bad days ain’t all that bad with what I have.” Three chords and the truth.
Can you be happy with what you have? I’m fortunate to say, “I think I can.”
I hope you can as well.