Do we waste a good portion of time telling ourselves “I’ll be happy when…”?
I’ll be happy when I can afford a house.
I’ll be happy when I can afford a bigger house.
I’ll be happy when I finally make it as a writer.
I’ll be happy when I get 1,000 followers. But wait a minute. That wasn’t enough. I’ll be happy with 10,000 followers.
I’ll be happy when I have more time.
I have too much time on my hands. I’ll be happy when I find something fulfilling to do.
I’ll be happy when I get a clean bill of health…
when I’m not depressed…
when I get married…
when I get divorced…
You get the point. We think just one more thing will make us happy, but it’s never enough.
Anne Tyler’s novel Ladder of Years is about a forty year old woman, Delia Grinstead, who leaves a husband and children who take her for granted. Hitching a ride to a new town, Delia finds a job and settles down to enjoy her solitude. Soon responsibilities begin to nibble away at her newfound independence. She ends up in much the same situation that she was in before, caring for a man and child who seem more interested in meeting their own needs than in meeting hers.
Like Delia Grinstead, we can move to a new place or find a new job or a new spouse, but life still manages to crowd in. We bring with us all the old attitudes and problems until the new life starts to look a lot like the old.
If we didn’t enjoy day-to-day life before, we probably won’t enjoy it when we move to that new place or reach that career goal.
When I think of enjoying life I think of my dad. He was not, by any stretch, a perfect man and I did not, by any stretch, have a perfect relationship with him, but he always had a tremendous ability to relish life’s simple pleasures. When he was hospitalized I wrote this in my journal:
Daddy is too long for the hospital bed. His feet touch the footboard. He’s hooked to wires and tubes and there’s the constant blip of a heart monitor along with the whir and hiss of other machines. A thick, clear plastic coil snakes around his head and his hand is punctured with a needle that leads to a tube that leads to another machine.
He might have another seizure. His lungs are diseased. He can’t drive; he can’t even get up, but I’m just thankful he’s alive. I thank God for any additional days he gives my dad.
His face lights up for visitors. He’s lived so long…82 years! I’m glad he likes the simple things: watching the birds flutter round his bird feeder; tilling the soil in his garden; a basketball game. I want him to be happy.
The last time I saw him was before his illness. Daddy was observing a squirrel on our deck. He mentioned that squirrels and cats both have long tails, but a cat waves hers languidly and fluidly, while a squirrel’s tail moves in short jerks, like the flick of a wrist. It’s like Daddy to notice and marvel over things like this.
I hope this ability to marvel over everyday things plus his capacity for humor will keep him happy even if he’s incapacitated.
As it turned out, God did grant my dad additional years. He was no longer able to build wooden bird feeders in his workshop. He couldn’t play golf or plant a garden. But he still enjoyed a baseball game on TV, a good joke, the gentle patter of a summer rain, and yes, despite doctor’s orders, a cigarette and a shot of Jim Beam.
My mother hung a hummingbird feeder outside the kitchen window above the sink and we all watched those birds buzzing round quick as bumblebees, perching on the feeder from time to time just long enough to allow us a glimpse of ruby throat before darting away. Simple pleasures abounded at my parent’s home, nourishing and enriching us.
My parents were in on a secret it’s taken me a while to discover: I won’t be happy at some ill-defined point in the future if I’m not happy now.
There is no I’ll be happy when...
We’re only promised the present, which is a journey we can relish for its current pleasures or for its opportunity to learn and grow.
Strive and plan for and anticipate the future. It’s fulfilling and worthwhile to nurture ambitions and set goals. But don’t neglect the nuggets of wisdom, love and joy you can mine from your current experiences. Don’t let your desires for the future blind you to simple pleasures, those everyday miracles that brighten our journey. Accept and enjoy the person you are right now.