The impossibility of complete happiness

IMG_0413Much of my recent spring break trip to San Diego was kid-focused. Sea World, the zoo, Legoland, etc. But each of the parents got one day off. In the course of skipping Disneyland, I went for a long run along the Pacific Ocean.

For a runner, this was about as far from the treadmill as one can go. The waves crashed against the cliffs. The sun glinted off the water like the sea had been sprinkled with diamonds. While the sky was a cloudless blue, the temperatures were just in the lower 60s. Perfect, in other words, for running. Especially for a runner who had no time constraints. I had already spent two hours that morning after my family left wresting control of my inbox. It had been tamed. My family would not be home until evening. I could stop and enjoy the view.

And I did. Yet, in the midst of my thoughts of “gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous,” I occasionally had other thoughts, like “Why is this trail not marked better?” or “this is annoying to go on and off the road here where no one repaired the sidewalk” and so forth. Or even “my shirt is kind of rubbing against my stomach.”

Even in the midst of something wonderful, it is hard to experience complete bliss. Such is the nature of having physical bodies and wandering minds (some might say such is the nature of a fallen world). But over time, I have come to realize that simply knowing that complete happiness is impossible is, in itself, liberating. It makes many situations more tenable.

For instance, I know the kids were very excited about all the parks we were going to see in the San Diego area. Within each individual day, however, there was inevitably complaining, and meltdowns and the like. With four children, someone was going to be hot, or someone cold. Someone was going to be hungry, or thirsty. Somebody was going to like one exhibit while someone else wanted to go on a different ride. On some level, this was frustrating. You spend all this money to do something for the kids and they seem ungrateful. At one point I told one of the complaining children that “next time we are going to Paris and you can look at museums all day. If you are going to complain no matter what, we may as well do what I want to do.” Perhaps there is some merit to this (Paris here we come??). However, if I accepted that it was impossible for everyone to be completely happy, I could recognize that generally the kids were getting enough good and fun stuff that they will remember this trip fondly.

And, of course, I took my day off. I ate fish tacos and drank craft beer at lunch. That helped with overall happiness too.

Photo: Not bad for a morning jog, eh?

14 thoughts on “The impossibility of complete happiness

  1. San Diego is a lovely place. I was irritated at the huge kelp clusters; it is always something!

    Paris is actually a wonderful city for kids. We took our then 8 year old. Many wonderful playgrounds and parks, places to run and explore, and even the older kids an deal with an hour of a museum (many have kids packs where they hunt for and learn about select works of art (both the Mused D’Orsay and the Louvre have this). Restaraunts always have “pine frites”, though they may lack chicken nuggets, and what kid wouldn’t like a warm chocolate croissant! Plus the Metro is fun and stroller friendly.

    1. @Kim- very true that my kids would love fries and chocolate pastries. I think we will save it for when the baby is slightly older. I want him to be able to watch movies on the plane. We went to the Netherlands when my 4-year-old was 2.5, and it went reasonably well. Now the 3 big kids are pretty much fine for travel so we will hit that in another 2 years. Or we leave the baby with someone.

  2. And in a year, two years, etc. you will remember the good parts and not the not-so-good. My daughter’s now 35 but my head is filled with happy-making memories from her younger years.

  3. Yes, very true.
    I love the idea of each spouse taking one day off during vacation. I will have to remember that for future trips.

    1. @Anne- we kind of backed into it. My husband had been saying he needed to work one day. Plus I was not as excited about Disneyland as he was. So it wound up working out. I think it’s a good approach for a family vacation in retrospect. With 4 kids it required having an extra adult with us, but we did, so it worked. If we had 2 kids each parent could have handled the day on his/her own.

      1. We typically do this for one evening each – someone stays in the hotel room or rental house with the kids and the other one goes out. We each got to ride a bunch of the “scary” rides at Disneyland that way. The evening is easier because the kids are asleep, but I do love the idea of a whole day to myself. Hmmmm…

  4. Totally agree. And then there are those moments when I find myself thinking, “This is no fun now, but it will be great in the retelling.” There was, for example, that time in San Antonio when after 2 margaritas I decided it would be a good idea to bite into a habanero pepper (that was sufficiently unpleasant, actually, that I could not think, ” … will be fun in the retelling” while I was trying desperately to cool my burning mouth — but it still was, and is, fun in the retelling).

    Glad you (mostly) enjoyed San Diego … please let us know how Paris goes!

  5. I would argue that complete happiness IS possible, it just doesn’t last very long. I guess the secret is trusting that it will happen again.

    1. I think this is true. I definitely experience short fleeting moments of complete happiness…the hope of those, and the memory of them when they’ve passed, goes a LONG way.

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