When I was 11, I spent an immense of time and mental energy wishing that I had a BB gun—I just knew joy would come packaged with the Daisy riffle. After I wrote a persuasive essay to my parents explaining why I “needed” one, they finally acquiesced (no wonder I became a writer!). A month later, there was a BB-sized hole in the front of our television and my gun was in a pawn shop. Turned out it wasn’t the key to my happiness.
A handful of years later, there was a girl I pined over. My daydreams involved montages of us laughing and kissing in grassy parks as others looked on with envy at our love. Unlike the majority of my imagined romances that would never come to fruition, this one actually happened. And, when it did, I suddenly found myself captive to tedious monologues about people I didn’t like and activities I found boring. My new goal for happiness became an exit strategy.
After two years at a small, conservative college where I constantly day dreamed of shifting to a more liberal and exciting environment, I transferred to UC Santa Cruz—the quintessential alternative university. What I discovered there was loneliness and the onset of severe depression and anxiety. It was a great school but not the key to my serenity.
In my early twenties, my late wife and I used to take walks through the neighborhoods of Monterey, CA and wish that we owned a house instead of renting a tiny apartment. We imagined all that we could do with a larger space and how much better life would be. Twenty-years later, I own a home and some of the advantages we contemplated turned out to be true. Yet, in thinking back to Monterey, we were rich with youth and free time and fiery romance. And the unhappiness we felt over wishing things were different turned out to be a waste of energy and the limited time we had together. We had what we needed in that moment, and then some.
My point is that I’ve often set up goals as destinations for when “the good life will really start.” Whether finishing school, getting married, having a child, landing a good job, buying a house, or (after I became a widower) finding love again, there has been a pattern of striving toward future events and achievements as the golden ticket to happiness. Don’t get me wrong, the accomplishments I just named were all worthy and meaningful pursuits! However, with each of these milestones came new responsibilities, new complications, new needs, new wants, and new future goals meant to deliver that elusive sense of being okay.
What I’ve learned is that when I can get out of the wishing game, I recognize that life is in session. Now. That contentment is a daily practice and not a fixed destination. A friend of mine says, “The problem with the idea of the golden years is that you never know you’re in them until after they’re past. So why not assume you're in'em right now!?” Why not indeed. I want to keep dreaming up a beautiful future but only as a guide for my present journey through these golden years.
So, here’s my plan. The next time I catch myself wishing for more or that things were different, I’m going to pause and change the message to: “I wish that I could see the incredible beauty and blessings in my life right now.” Fortunately, this is one wish I can immediately grant.