Much 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.
A version of this post originally appeared on Laura Vanderkam’s website