In a great moment in the finale of the TV show The Office, the character Andy realized that a job he viewed as a way station rather than a destination is one that he will miss terribly.
In the past week, friends of mine have kids who are going to grade school for the first time, and off to college the first time. Transitions like that can be bittersweet or downright painful. But the end of an era is the beginning of another one.
It’s easy to think that happiness is located at some time in the past: back when I was in college, back when the kids were little, back when I had that job, back when I was in better shape.
And it’s just as easy to think that happiness is something that will happen some time in the future: once this semester is over, once I find a boyfriend, once we move, once I pay off this debt.
It’s harder to remember that happiness is right at hand.
Happiness isn’t a snooty house guest who will only deign to step inside if you’ve cleaned the whole place from top to bottom and bought the good beer instead of the cheap stuff. If she’s invited, she will hang out in the unlikeliest of places.
She won’t even always clear out if you’re having a crisis, the way a polite visitor would do. Instead, she’ll awkwardly linger while you deal with it, waiting to see if you have a little time to hang out with her again.
In grad school, I was poor and disliked my writing program. But that’s when I fell in love with Mr. Donovan. And that’s when I would spend whole days going from one cafe to another, writing poetry. Even right now as I think about that time in my life, it stabs my heart in a good way.
There have been other tough years, but there were still things about them I just loved. The park we used to take walks in. The dogs we had. The place we used to go for dinner. Songs I listened to a lot from those times can absolutely wreck me with nostalgia.
Every single time of our lives, even the crappy times, have things about them that we will miss later. It could be decent health. It could be an apartment or house, even if it needs a lot of fixing up. It could be the silly TV show you watch with your family or talk to your friends about.
And most definitely, it’s the people around you. No matter what age your kids are — 8 months, 8 years, 18 years, 58 years — there will be a time later when you think back fondly on when they were that age. You will treasure any good times you have with friends or family members — and even pleasantries with acquaintances. The littlest things can stick with you.
I’m trying to remember not to treat any period in my life like a way station rather than a destination.
Lately, I’ve been working very hard on a book, and because of the challenging deadline, I had sort of told myself that once the project was finished, I would go back to having a happy life. I thought I would put the pause button on joy while I toiled away.
But this was wrongheaded. As long as I’m able to have fun and connect with people, I should make time for that, even if I’m mostly focused on work. This weekend, I met with a few fellow writers in a writing group that means the world to me. I went with Mr. Donovan to Powell Gardens, a great botanical garden maybe 45 minutes from town, and walked with him and talked and took in the sights of blooms, butterflies, and wide open skies. I ran through the fountains.
I hope this is a week when you don’t postpone joy. I hope it’s the beginning of a time for you when you notice the positive things that make it your good old days. And I hope there are more positive things to notice all the time.