So I was driving down the highway, thinking about things, not paying any attention to where I was.
My first book was finished. My coauthor and I had it in the hands of a literary agent who was shopping it to publishers in New York. (This was many years ago.) Nobody had picked it up yet, but I felt sure this would happen any day now, and not only that, but that it would be published and hit the bestseller lists.
As I drove, I was dreaming about how good that was going to feel, knowing that this thing my friend and I had worked on so hard was going to be in the hands of so many people, touching so many lives, making such a difference out in the big world.
And then I heard myself say out loud:
“Man, when that happens, I’m going to be so happy!”
The implications of that remark were so disturbing that I instantly slapped on my turn signal, yanked the wheel to the right, and pulled off the highway. Gliding into a rest stop, I parked, put on the brake, and sat there thinking about what I’d just said as the cooling engine went tink tink-tink tink.
“When that happens, I’m going to be so happy.”
It was a beautiful summer day on Interstate 81, somewhere deep in that luscious green stretch of mountain countryside stretching north to south from central Pennsylvania to Virginia. Gorgeous as it was, though, I had not been enjoying it, not the slightest little bit. Why not? Because I hadn’t been there.
Where had I been?
For the past hour or so I’d been busy thinking about some imagined circumstance in some imagined future that would (I imagined) make me feel happy. Projecting myself into some fantasized future, I’d projected myself right out of reality. I’d been holding my own happiness hostage to a hypothesized future, and in the process keeping myself inanimately frozen like a prehistoric insect in amber, a fossilized citizen of that land of nonexistence called Someday.
I call Someday the eighth day of the week: the day that never comes.
When I say, “I am going to be happy,” the message my subconscious receives is, “Right now I’m not happy, and I won’t be happy until that future comes.”
Which, of course, it never does—because it is always “right now.”
Jim Carrey, the comedian, wrestled for a long time with deep depression. In recent years Carrey has become a devoted friend and advocate of Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now, the bestselling book that so beautifully articulates the essential value of existing in the present moment and not allowing our ego to stretch us like taffy into projections of the future and ruminations over the past. Introducing Tolle at an event for the Global Alliance for Transformational Entertainment, Carrey told the audience:
“If you’ve read The Power of Now, if you know his work, and you’ve been looking forward to hearing him this evening … you should go back and read it again, because you obviously missed the point.”
This got a big laugh and a round of applause — and it was a really good point.
Sitting there on the side of Interstate 81, it occurred to me that I had obviously missed the point.
Sure, it would be great when and if the book got published. But why not be happy right now?
The first condition of being happy is to be as fully present as possible, in the moment, right now, right here. Because this moment, right now, right here, is where happiness happens. The only place and time, in fact, where happiness happens.
(The words “happiness” and “happen” come from the same root. Aha. A clue.)
Parents with active careers know how easy it is to miss out on the most important moments in a child’s life. Hence the classic busy executive’s lament, “I watched my kid growth up on video.” But it’s just as easy to miss out on your own life the same way. Don’t watch the moments of your existence passing by from the distracted distance of the video camera in your mind.
That day on the interstate I was traveling from Massachusetts, where my sweetheart lived, to Virginia, to see my sons. Traveling from one good place to another. But right then I wasn’t in Massachusetts and I wasn’t in Virginia. I was somewhere in between … on the road.
Something like where I was with our book.
I’d had a wonderful time writing the thing. But that place was now behind me, and I was now on the way toward that eventual place where I would be enjoying the experience of our book being out in the world. And that place lay ahead, in the future.
As it turned out, in the far future.
As it turned out, that summer not a single publisher bought our book. Not that fall or winter, either.
As it turned out, every publishing house our agent approached turned it down.
That winter our agent kicked the manuscript back to us with dozens of pages of notes and suggestions. It wa a long winter. We spent months revising it. The months stretched out into a year, then more than a year. Finally, two full years after the day of that summertime roadside reverie, we signed a contract with a publisher, and six months after that our little book, titled The Go-Giver, was published. And in fact it did end up on some bestseller lists, and it did go on to touch a lot of lives. But not till some thirty months after that bucolic day on Interstate 81 when I’d imagined it happening.
I’m sure glad I decided not to hold my own happiness hostage to the future.
Thirty months is a long time to sit on the side of the road.
Which makes me wonder: Are you by any chance sitting anywhere on the side of Interstate 81, or any other highway, imagining how nice it will be when you arrive?
If so, I have a thought to share:
If you can imagine how nice it will be when you arrive, then don’t wait to enjoy it, because you’re already there.