I sense there is a lag time in our understanding of the circumstances of our lives. That it isn’t until now becomes then that we begin to have a clear grasp of what’s happened. In the moment we’re too busy processing all the information that’s coming at us. Sometimes the lag time is hours, sometimes months. Maybe even years. By then the setting and the characters from the story may be long gone from our lives. Still, the sense of what it was, how it felt, lingers and takes shape. Comes into focus.
This is the problem with this idea that we’re all supposed to be seeking happiness. Happiness travels much more slowly than words and actions. We’re in a moment, living it, but it’s usually not until we get further down the line and turn around and look back that we recognize happiness as having been present in the story.
I used to see this a lot with people nearing end of life. When our days are numbered and we know for certain we’re leaving soon a lot of us wish we had been more willing or able to recognize happiness when it was sitting beside us, in the moment. Happiness has this quiet patience, often ignored but tenacious, watching as we default to pessimism, frustration, fatigue and blame; as we quit things and move on, unwilling to stop long enough to look at the plain girl standing on the sidelines, Happiness. Usually shaking her head, I’m sure.
“I don’t know why I made my life so hard,” a woman told me once. She was dying and she wasn’t old. She had never been married, never had kids. She had worked hard for a long time to save lots of money so she could retire young and travel and see things. But right before the time she planned to retire she was diagnosed with a terrible and fast-moving cancer. She was so angry, she felt she had been gypped out of her chance to have some fun, to not work so hard for a change, to chase happiness down in Europe and the Caribbean. She was one of those people who did everything she thought she was supposed to do, but she didn’t get the payoff she felt entitled to. She got death instead.
I don’t really know what the moral of the story is. I wonder if that woman had had a glimpse into the future if she would have lived differently. If, instead of putting everything off with the mindset that when everything is right and the stars are all aligned and everyone is nicer and I have piles of money then I will do all the things I want to do and I will be happy she had simply woven that thinking into every day she was alive. An understanding this is enough, what I’m doing brings me satisfaction, I should go to Anguilla this year. Would she have died at peace, I’ve often wondered, if she had stopped putting everything off and taken a look around and seen how good it was and lived in it all, right then and there? Because she didn’t; she died mad as hell.
I wonder that about all of us, actually. Why it’s so hard for us to see the treasure in what we have when we have it?
The combination of memory and time is a funny thing. Certainly it can screw with us, we forget a lot of things, details become hazy; two people who had the same experience have two different stories. But I think it’s different with happiness. I think it’s really hard for us humans to recognize it when we have it and all too tragically easy to identify it later, after the fact.
I think we all would live differently if we understood better one of the most basic truths of life: someday you won’t have this anymore. There will come a day when you won’t have the luxury of relegating Happiness to the sidelines while you set the stage, duke it out, primp and prep. Someday you are going to run out of lag time.