If I had to name the one thing about myself that most frequently gets in the way of my happiness, it’s my struggle to be content with what I actually have, not what I could have, or what I might have, or what I will have down the road (should everything go according to plan…which we all know it very well might not). Every time I visit a new place and love its cute downtown or beautiful scenery, I think about how much better life might be if I could live there full time. If I grow a successful crop of broccoli I wish I would have put in the tomatoes, too. If I get a fabulous pair of shoes I think wistfully about the coordinating purse I couldn’t quite afford.
And it can affect my mom-happiness, too. When my first son was a baby, I had one of those books that tracks what your baby is supposed to be able to do each month, and I was constantly referencing it in my anxiety for him to hurry up and get to the next developmental stage. Crawling? Cute, but what about walking? Saying “mama”? Heart-warming, but when did the book say he was supposed to start stringing together sentences again? Now that I have five kids, I’m a lot less impatient about when they’ll hit those developmental milestones (mostly because I’ve misplaced the book and can’t really remember when they’re supposed to happen) but that doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally wish away entire months–even years!–of time. On a frustrating day with Owen, I find myself looking forward “only” three more years until he starts kindergarten. When I look around the ever-more crowded house, I sometimes fantasize about what I’ll do with the extra room when both of the big boys are away at college. In nine years.
This is all normal human stuff, of course, and I doubt it’s possible to eliminate it entirely. And sometimes, being able to look forward to something–say, the day your baby will start sleeping through the night, or the month you’ll be able to put your youngest in preschool and enjoy three hours a day to yourself–can help make a challenging time that much easier to get through. But it’s also possible to find yourself effectively wishing away years of your life, focusing more on what you’ll do or have down the road than what you’re doing and having today.
So when I catch myself thinking too much about how great life will be when X happens, or when we move to Y town or house, or when our kids are old enough to do Z, I try to take a good, honest look at the “now” and find something I love about it. I’m not talking “enjoy it, they grow up so fast!” platitudes here, because we all know they grow up fast, but that doesn’t always mean it’s easy to enjoy. But there is always some simple pleasure to be found there. Even the baby who screams all night has a soft, downy head to nuzzle. Even the preschooler who acts like the devil looks angelic in his sleep. Even the mouthy pre-teen is charming if you look past the awkward swagger to the combination of insecurity and fledgling sense of humor beneath. It’s not always a lot, but it’s enough: this is life, and it’s happening right now. Enjoying whatever pleasure we can milk out of it is an important exercise and can even be a fun challenge. If you aren’t too sleep-deprived, that is.
Do you ever find yourself “what-if-ing” and “some-day-ing” so much you forget how to be happy today? How do you enjoy what you have?