My youngest discovered a new game on my phone. Tiles glide up the screen to classical music and the goal is to tap the dark ones.
Variations include the tiles speeding up and slowing down, more or fewer tiles, varied colors, etc. I get dizzy just watching and am pretty sure he will do some serious damage to his eyes if he plays for long. Clever designer though---the classical music somehow makes me feel, as a parent, it can't be all bad.
Recently he was on a roll and announced he might reach 1000 successful taps.
I watched over his shoulder as his score climbed; his fingers beating a staccato rhythm on the screen. As he got closer, I held my breath hoping he would make it: 856, 910, 980, 1000....1021!
"Look mom! Look!", his face beamed in pure joy as he swung around to show me the screen.
"Awesome job honey! I saw! You were CRAZY fast!" I planted a big noisy kiss on his velvet cheek.
As I turned back to the task of pulling dinner together, he swung back around in the chair and started another round.
"What are you doing now honey?"
"I am trying to beat my score of 1021."
I frowned. Wow.
"Hey how about before you start the next try, come and help me set the table."
Now it was his turn to frown. I gave him "the look" (the one where I think I look like Stephen Colbert ) and he put down my phone, swinging his legs around the side of the chair and hefting his 75 pounds out of the chair toward the kitchen (like he had bowling balls in his pockets).
How do I explain this to a nine year old? I think the old me would have have snapped something like, 'take a break from that thing! You should be happy! OK? Let's go!'
But I see things differently now, and hopefully I can share this with him.
So I tried to explain the happiness gap and it goes something like this: You set yourself a goal, in itself, not a bad thing. The 'bad thing' happens if you decide you will not be happy until you reach this goal. Each set back becomes a failure and at some point, if you are not careful, you can start to believe that you do not deserve to be happy, which weakens your efforts, which fuels your failure which reinforces the message that you are a failure and happiness is always somewhere, out there, in the future and possibly, unachievable.
But let's say you do achieve your goal. What happens next? Most often, we immediately set another goal. Or perhaps, we go to the list of goals, often an arms length long, check off #1 and move immediately to #2, furious for taking so long and looking longingly at goal #3.
Happiness, satisfaction, celebration never come. We are too busy minding the gap between where we are now, and our perceived happiness we will achieve once we reach our goal. Happiness is always on hold. It is the dangling carrot; the sliding gap between where we are and where we want to be.
I don't think this will ever change and I am not suggesting it should. However, there is another part to this story that is forgotten; dismissed like an after thought, written off as 'nothing'; and that is the acknowledgement of the gap between where you were, and where you now are.
Instead of looking foward all the time, we need to balance our perspective to include looking back. Minding all the steps we made in THAT gap---from setting the goal to achieving it. The good part is, it only takes a moment. The BEST part is that moment of look at me, look what I did, look what I achieved allows opens up your heart to the happiness, joy and success it needs to give you a life of meaning.
From the minute you are born, you are rushing toward death---morbid reality I am afraid---so why not find ways to enjoy the journey, because in the end, that is all you have.
My youngest is goal driven, hard on himself and as I watch his slouched shoulders and downcast eyes heading my way, the only thing I can do is hope we can work to mind the gap he has just crossed.
"Can you believe you got over 1000?" I asked trying to pull him from his brood.
"Yeah.... so I want to try to beat it!" he whined.
"Ok, I get that honey. But what about getting to 1000? That was pretty amazing! When you first started playing that game did you ever think you would get to 1000?"
"No, I was only getting like 25 or 30".
"Right, so 1000 is HUGE!!!"
"Yeah, I guess so."
"How do you think you did it? What made this time special?"
He paused a moment, his eyes softening their focus as he replayed the game; describing the pressure, the strategy, the excitement. His voice grew more and more animated and a smile bloomed on his face as he neared the 1000 mark.
He finished, flush and breathless.
I put up my hands for a high ten, and he obliged.
"Maybe after dinner I can try to beat my score!" he moved around the table placing cutlery in a focused manner, a determined look on his face--the brooding gone.
"Sure honey. But for now, let's celebrate 1021."
And we did.