Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Pot of Gold

Have you heard something like this before?
As human beings, we're always looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We want everything now and we have such a hard time living in the moment. The true struggle of humanity is finding joy in the journey.
I disagree.

Of course, I do think there's wisdom in trying to live in the moment and find joy in the journey (and I probably need to try harder than most people). What I disagree with is the assumption that enjoying the journey itself is so difficult and unnatural for us.

I think the concept of "being on a journey" is quite natural and even desirable to us. We love journeys.  Sure, we're not always good at enjoying them, but deep down, we crave them. In fact, we're constantly looking for new journeys to take.

That's why we run marathons (if all you wanted was to run over a line, you could do that without the 26-mile part). Read books. Watch TV shows with constant cliffhanger endings. Make New Year's resolutions (and then consistently break them). Join new clubs or groups. Take vacations.

And it's not just we 21st-century folks that are so fixated on journeys. Look at the literature our civilization is built on. Biblical accounts of Israelites wandering in the desert for years upon years. The Odyssey, Iliad, and Aeneid. The Thousand and One Nights (a metaphorical, infinite journey). A Pilgrim's Progress. We love journeys.

The problem is that we don't want them to end.

We say we want the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We lament on and on about our current circumstances and how we want things to be better, or how they'll be better someday. But if we ever do get everything we said we wanted? Either we're suddenly on a new journey again and our joy fades immediately, or we're bitterly depressed because our journey is over.

I'm not saying it's a bad thing that journeying is part of our nature. As people often say, life itself is a journey; even if we wanted to just rest and not go anywhere, we'd have no choice. Things are constantly progressing and moving forward, whether we want them to or not. The problem is that we can't sit back and see how far we've come. We can't admit when we have gotten to the pot of gold. We just keep complaining.

A prime example is being single. In my community, everyone and their dog wants to get married. I was once one of them. We all hated the fact that we were single. In our view, everything would get better once we were married. Yes, of course we'd still have problems, but at least we'd have someone to share them with. At least we'd have a shoulder to cry on. At least we'd never, ever be alone again.

Of course, now I am married. And I've never been happier. But all too often, I forget that. I think so much about the other things I want that I forget that I've landed the pot of gold. And it's better than I ever dreamed. So why can't I be happy with that? 

I suspect the same thing will happen in other aspects of my life. I keep looking forward with anxiety toward the day I'll graduate, but once I do, I imagine I'll start wishing I'd hurry up and publish my first book. I'll eventually have a baby, and then after a few months I'll start wasting time dreaming about when the baby's older, instead of appreciating the time I have when the baby is tiny.

I'm not trying to say we shouldn't look forward to the future or have goals and dreams. I'm not trying to say that it's bad for life to be a journey. All I'm saying is that just because we're currently on a journey doesn't mean we haven't found a few nuggets of gold along the way. When one of our dreams is realized, let's try to actually take time to celebrate it. Let's enjoy the journey, but never disregard the gold we've already gained.

What do you think? 


  1. I agree! And you put it so well. I have found that now that I'm older, it's a bit easier to appreciate the "gold nuggets" on the way.

    1. Thanks! I've always thought you were really good at appreciating what you had. I remember I asked you once when you thought the best part of your life was, and you said "right now." I liked that! I hope I always feel that way.

  2. I think part of human nature is that we require goals. For us, it always has to be a journey, because we can't be happy with aimless wandering. And when we set goals, we have a desire to achieve them. The trick is to desire our goals without becoming dissatisfied with our current status. We have to realize that when we achieve a goal, we'll have to set a new one, but that shouldn't diminish our happiness from our achievement.

    I recently read an article by Jonathan Clements that I thought had a lot of good advice:
    But I was surprised that he said that happiness drops to its lowest point in our 40's. I've always thought that I would be happiest at about that time! Raising kids is one of my main goals in life. I'm a little nervous that my happiness will drop when my children start leaving home (but then maybe I can start enjoying grandkids). Maybe other people get less happy in their 40's because they had higher priorities than raising kids and the kids are getting in the way.

    1. "The trick is to desire our goals without becoming dissatisfied with our current status. We have to realize that when we achieve a goal, we'll have to set a new one, but that shouldn't diminish our happiness from our achievement."

      Well said! But definitely not easy to do...

      Interesting article. Even if having kids is the highest priority, though, I think when people are in their 20s and even 30s, they're looking at the rest of their lives as long and full of possibility. But when you get to your 40s, you realize you're halfway done, and somehow the time has gotten away from you and you've hardly done any of the things you wanted to do. You might be right about people who have kids, but I think it's probably also true for a lot of women who haven't had kids yet--they reach their 40s, realize they actually really want to be a mom, and then have to face the idea that it's not that easy to get pregnant anymore and even if they do, they'll probably only have one child.