I heard something interesting on the radio the other day about happiness. Happiness, the philosophical talk show host explained, was different depending on your stage of life. He went on to say that when you are young, happiness comes mostly from thinking about your future. Then, in middle age, it comes largely from being in the moment and living life, often quite hectically, in the present. Old age finally, finds happiness predominately from memories of the past.
I haven’t been able to shake this concept. I find it sad and disturbing. Mostly because I think it’s true. I don’t want this part of my life, where I’m caught busily racing from present moment to present moment, to ever end. I am happy where I am. Yes, I’m stressed out, overwhelmed and run ragged 98% of the time. But I love my kids, my family, my husband, my work, my creative time. I’d like life to go on like this indefinitely. The thing is, I know it wont. I feel the present slipping away from me with each tick of the clock. Honestly, it’s a curse to be so hyper aware of time’s passage. My ardent attempts to suck every bit of marrow out of each passing moment often feels more like a futile attempt to build a lasting sand castle right in the middle of high tide. Try as I may, failure is inevitable.
I remember at the very end of my paternal grandfather’s life, we were all sitting around his bedside celebrating his birthday. He was very old and frail by then, a mere shell of his former self. As the cake emerged with a scattering of representative candles, my maternal grandmother, the only other elder remaining in our clan, posed this question defeatedly to my grandpa. “Oh, Irwin,” she sighed, “Where have all the good years gone?” He smiled weakly, looked around at his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. and with the same sparkle we’d seen in his younger eyes said, “They’ve been replaced by better ones.”
I will never forget that moment. Somehow, my grandfather had managed to keep his consciousness focused on the beauty of what was right in front of him. He had escaped the trap of only living in the glory of the past. As we age, we can lose sight of the good that stands before us and idealize earlier times when we’d been untouched by loss, pain and trauma.
The truth is, there will always be moments of joy, beauty and wonder, no matter what our age. We just can’t ever stop looking for them.