Making our happiness contingent on the “Very Important Thing” that’s for sure going to hopefully happen in the future (like getting that promotion, losing 17 pounds, or moving to Boulder– or all three!) means that a) we’re delusional, and b) we’re pressing the pause button on the very lives we’re living right now – because whether we like it or not, our lives are happening as we wipe our noses on our gloves in the cold while waiting for the train and our impending “happiness” to arrive.
The happy version of our lives isn’t a train stop we just haven’t gotten off at yet. Our lives are happening right now, and every day we lose sight of that it’s like we miss the train altogether. (I don’t want to miss the train on a cold winter day in Chicago, and I know you don’t either. Frostbite is real.)
Robert Holden describes this preoccupation of happiness being somewhere else — certainly never right here, right now — as “Destination Addiction.” What if we broke the addiction cycle and started looking at our lives as the collection of Very Important Moments that they actually are, and appreciating them for what they have to offer? Even the mundane moments that we discard as meaningless because they aren’t, well, meaningful – they can still qualify towards your happiness quotient. Especially the mundane moments that happen in the spaces between the supposed Moments of Meaning– because they represent 89%* of the time we’re here for.
We think life counts when we’ve arrived at the beach with a Corona in hand, yet our lives are also just as rich and real in the days leading up to the vacation. We think life is happening for real when we sit down to eat the highly Instagram-able keto-friendly dinner we’ve toiled over, yet our lives are also happening when we’re in line at the grocery store checkout, staring absentmindedly at the Juicy Fruit gum and trying to remember what it tastes like. We can find happiness on the way to the beach, too.
We think we should press ’record’ on our lives when we arrive at the concert — because it’s the Very Important Thing we scored tickets for — but our lives are also happening in the Uber on the way to the stadium, having a scintillating conversation with the driver about what it’s like to be from Montenegro. We think happiness is about the glitz, the glam, the glory– yet it’s also possible for happiness to sneak its way into this Very Important Moment, while reading these words right now, if you let it.
Life is what happens when we’re busy making other plans, right? I want to challenge that. In our lives — that are all-too-often punctuated by the big and obvious events that are supposed to make us happy in the traditional sense (like landing that new job, marrying the partner of our dreams, winning the lottery we’re totally sure we’re going to win) — let’s savor and appreciate the moments sitting unassumingly and patiently between the big Moments of Meaning. I’ve always loved the line, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” (Annie Dillard). How we spend the moments between our Moments is how we spend our lives.
Let’s stop dismissing the vast majority of our lives and learn to wring all the happiness we can out of them. Let’s learn more about Montenegro, blow Juicy Fruit bubbles and savor each day before we hit the beach. Let’s stop saying, “I’ll be happy when…” and start thinking, “The thing that made me happy today was…” even if it was a deceptively dismissive, mundane moment. Let’s not miss the train… let’s get off at all of the stops.
*I made 89% up. But it might actually be higher than that.