Can You Have It Now?

Sometimes I put my happiness on layaway. I think about how amazing it will feel when I move somewhere big enough for a dedicated office space. When I have a house with a lush backyard illuminated with twinkling fairy lights. In the interim though, I’m in a one-bedroom apartment with no green space. Yes, I have plants in containers, but it’s not the same as a true backyard. Does that mean I’m doomed to be unhappy?

I’m currently reading the Artist’s Way and one of the exercises is to write out your ideal day. My ideal day includes, you guessed it, eating outside in a lush backyard illuminated with fairy lights. The author, Julia Cameron, asks, “What festive elements of your ideal day can you have right now?” Well, that certainly isn’t a question I ever asked myself.

I don’t have a backyard, but I do have a walkway that serves as a porch so on impulse, I purchased fairy lights to string along the railing and a camp chair to sit in. I’m still waiting for the fairy lights to arrive but tada! For less than $20 I gave myself something I’ve been dreaming of for years, or at least a small taste of it. I don’t have to earn more money to move to a bigger place, and then find the perfect place, and then live there. I can give myself what I want right here, right now.

fairy lights

My happiness includes fairy lights. Photo by muhammad asif on Unsplash

It begs the question, “Why was I waiting?” I was waiting because I wanted things to be “perfect” first. I wanted my ideal and not the less-than-ideal, as if only the ideal could make me happy. But is that really true? Psychology professor Robert Emmons says:

Research on emotion shows that positive emotions wear off quickly. Our emotional systems like newness. They like novelty . . . . But gratitude makes us appreciate the value of something, and when we appreciate the value of something, we extract more benefits from it; we’re less likely to take it for granted.

In effect, I think gratitude allows us to participate more in life. We notice the positives more, and that magnifies the pleasures you get from life. Instead of adapting to goodness, we celebrate goodness.

In other words, I can be happier, right now, by celebrating goodness. By enjoying that I have a porch to sit on, that the fairy lights will twinkle in dusky light, and that a breeze ruffles my hair. I don’t need to wait to feel pleasure. I can feel content right here, right now. It reminds me of Mary Oliver’s famous poem “The Summer Day.” She writes:

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

As for me, I plan on creating my ideal life before everything is perfectly in place. I plan on giving myself the simple things I yearn for, sometimes for years, before it looks exactly how I think it should. Instead of adapting to goodness, I plan on celebrating goodness.

I dream of a world where we stop waiting to give ourselves the simple pleasures we long for. A world where we make our dreams come true before they are perfect, before they are ideal. A world where we recognize positive emotions wear off quickly but we can cultivate contentment right here, right now.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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