The gift of happiness? The present.
Submitted by admin on Tue, 04/09/2013 – 22:07
The only secret to happiness I know
Up to this point, my parenthood essays have been more theoretical than I’d really like to admit, lessons from my parents that I’ve tried to learn from the perspective of a grateful daughter. So yes, I do see how rich it is for me to impart wisdom that I’ve never tested on children of my own.
But as my friends and family now know, at 38 I am pregnant for the first time. This parenthood stuff is going to get real, real fast.
One note that I find encouraging is that my own parents had me later in life and Milan’s folks had him around the same age as mine. If I ever worry about being an old mom, I think of my mom having me at 41. When she became pregnant, her dear friend Edna told her, “Gaye, don’t you dare get old on that girl.” And so she didn’t. Chasing a toddler at her age might seem exhausting, and perhaps it was, but what I remember was how my mom and dad went out of their way to be playful and do do fun things with my brother and me, activities they might have skipped if they didn’t have kids at home. What I have observed in them and others is that children live the secrets of happiness every day without effort. It can rub off on anyone who will let it.
As my pregnancy progresses I find myself mesmerized by young children, and here is what I see: they are happy because they are in the present. It doesn’t much matter where they happen to be, they’re content playing under the table, in the park, or anywhere really. This place is just as good as that. Sure they get cranky and want to be let down from the high chair, but the difference between them and the rest of us is that they do not waste their moments worrying about the future. They’re not trying to be someone different than who they are. They are not re-hashing the past. None of these notions have even occurred to them yet. They are right here, in this moment, and they’re happy because of it.
Recently someone told me of a framed picture on the wall, “Grow up to be a child.” We are spending this week on the beach and as I take in everyone’s exuberance here, I am reminded how nature invites our inner children to come out and play. Adults, teenagers and grandpas are body surfing together and they’re all giggling and tumbling. We all find ourselves transfixed by the creatures above and below. Okay, maybe some of us can fall into self-consciousness during the walk from beach mat to water, but once in we splash about and forget we ever had thoughts of being anyone or anywhere else. Observing from a beach chair, joy is written on everyone’s face. Bills, mistakes, tough decisions are nowhere evidenced on this little stretch of sand and sea. We are behaving just like children. Isn’t that grand?
So this is the one secret of happiness I know. Being in the present. We all have a light inside of us and that light is enough. It is enough to get us through this moment, but it will never be enough to change what happened yesterday or to solve problems that are not yet here to be acted upon. If–and it’s always if–those problems do arrive, that light inside will be enough. I believe that light is all we will ever need if we let it inspire and give us courage when the time comes.
What I also find, is that the present moment is nearly always easier than we had imagined. More often than not, the present moment is better than manageable, it overflowing with sensory deliciousness if we’d just stop worrying and scurrying long enough to notice. There are five senses plus love and hope right here right now. This moment has what we need to be happy, and it is also all we’ll ever have. Only this moment is real. The right now. And right now. And right now.
Years ago I read a wonderful book called “If I Knew Then What I Know Now,” a collection of essays from people answering the question of what advice they would give to a younger version of themselves. The essay below was written by an 80-something woman named Nadine Stair and was printed in her local newspaper. I have read it so many times I could probably repeat it by heart in a pinch. I hope you will enjoy it too.
“If I had my life to live over I’d make more mistakes next time. I’d relax. I would limber up. I would be sillier than I have been this trip. I would take fewer things seriously. I would take more chances. I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers. I would eat more ice cream and less beans. I would perhaps have more actual troubles, but I’d have fewer imaginary ones. You see, I’m one of those people who lived sensibly and sanely hour after hour, day after day. Oh, I’ve had my moments, but if I had to do it over again, I’d have more of them. In fact, I’d try to have nothing else. Just moments, one after another, instead of living so many years ahead each day. I’ve been one of those persons who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, a hot water bottle, a raincoat, and a parachute. If I had to do it again, I would travel lighter than I have. If I had my life to live over, I would start barefoot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall. I would go to more dances. I would ride more merry-go-rounds, I would pick more daisies.”