It was 1987, and we were taking our first real vacation, thanks to the tremendous growth of the mutual fund into which I’d wisely poured our money. It was autumn, so we opted for New England, one of the few places that actually looks like a Photoshopped fall calendar.
After a bumpy start, literally—our plane bounced violently and then lurched to the left upon landing in Boston (Co-pilot to Pilot: “Wake up, Dave, we’re here”)—and a long delay getting to our foul smelling “view” hotel, which, in fact, featured a panoramic view of an industrial complex, my wife and I began irritably blaming each other.
All portents pointed to disaster. But we were there, so… We argued our way out of the reservation and drove in tense silence to a chain hotel at the edge of the city. When we got to our upper floor room, we were stunned: it had a breathtaking and completely unadvertised view. The cords of tension began to loosen. A little.
The next day, we drove to Walden Pond. As a young man, I’d cherished my copy of Thoreau’s Walden, and had always wanted to visit the book’s setting. What we saw immediately re-drew the image in my mind. Rather than the puddle I’d imagined, Walden Pond turned out to be a good-sized lake that mirrored the most beautiful color-saturated woods I’d ever seen. My wife and I walked, talked, prayed and forgave–and began falling back in love again. We determined for the rest of the trip to avoid all vestiges of “the real world” (newspapers, television). There would be only us and God, and His splendid handiwork.
The next day, we met up with one of my wife’s old friends. She commented on how “honeymoonerish” we were, and then asked what we thought about the “crash.” “What crash?” A quick glance in the Boston Globe revealed that, while we’d been placidly strolling Walden, the biggest bear in history had been charging down Wall Street. They were calling it “Black Monday.”
Thanks to my wise investment strategy, we were more financially in the hole than when we’d gotten married. Yet at the same moment we were relationally stronger than we’d ever been. Sensing the latter was far more important, we chose not to let bold Fear drive away diffident Happiness.
Our Autumn in New England was everything we’d hoped for and more–because Happiness decided to join us for the rest of the trip. Our money took a little longer to show up, but a year later our mutual fund was actually worth more than it had been on Black Monday.
You can’t schedule happiness. But you can focus on the Waldens rather than the Wall Streets, on people rather than things. Because those are, coincidentally, what Happiness values the most. So when it does decide to visit,
it might just stick around for a while.