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What makes you happy?

I’m generally of the mindset that a vacation doesn’t truly start until I’ve reached my destination. I will not be happy until I am sitting with either a cup of coffee or a glass of wine in my hand on the other side of the long drive. I want to get there as quickly as possible so I can just relax. But looking back, it brought to mind a vacation I took a few years ago when I was a single mom. I threw all the kids in the car, and headed to our family home in northern Wisconsin.

I could either take the 11-hour route that went through all of the major cities along the way, or I could take the 16-hour route that was more scenic and went over Mackinac Bridge and along the Great Lakes. Now, if you’ve ever driven for any length of time with five kids in the car, you understand my hesitation of adding five additional hours. I was afraid I would either be in tears or minus a couple of kids before we got there, but I chose the longer route. I told myself that for once, we were going to enjoy the drive.

This time, vacation started the minute we got in the car. If we got in the mood for ice cream, we stopped and got some. If I saw a pretty barn, I pulled over to photograph it. We stopped in Grand Rapids to visit friends and swim. We stopped to splash in the lake at sunset. We hiked when we got to the other side of the bridge and had a picnic dinner. We enjoyed the ride. The right now. The drive ended up taking 18 hours. I was exhausted when we finally arrived, but I still had my sanity, and all of the kids. The inside of the car was covered in sand and sticky napkins and empty wrappers, but their faces were covered in chocolate and smiles. It was totally worth it. I realized that I got it right this time and I realized that in my rush to just get where we were going all the years before, I missed it. I missed the joy that can be found in just slowing down and noticing the remarkable things around us along the way.

It makes me wonder. How often are we so focused on getting to the next point in our everyday life that we forget to see the remarkable things in the right now? Maybe we feel like we’ll be happier when we can get a bigger house or newer car. Maybe we want to just get through the ball practice so we can get home and sit in our favorite chair and relax. Maybe we think we’ll be happy when we can just finish the errands and get home. Heck, sometimes I think I’ll be happy if I can just get through the day so I can have a re-do and start over the next. (Yes, we’ve all had those.)

If that is the mindset in which we live our lives, we are missing it. We are missing the joy that can come in rolling down the windows, cranking up the radio, singing to our favorite songs, and having an impromptu dance party in our old car while on the way to run errands. Great conversations can be had on the way to and from ball practice. A compliment to the person running the cash register at the grocery store could brighten the day for both of you. Even on days when you might be sick and don’t go outside, you might notice deer in the yard, or a neighborhood child picking flowers. (Hopefully not out of your flowerbed like my kids have done to our neighbors – sorry!)

Your house might be small and not the one you envisioned yourself retiring in, but it has likely been the place of many blessings and memories, had the aroma of many home-cooked meals, and welcomed many people through its doors that love you. Let us not be in such a hurry to get to the next thing that we think will make us happy that we miss those small moments. In the end, those are the things that matter.

I am reminded of that every time I see my framed pictures of the pretty barns that I took time to stop and photograph along our vacation route that summer. And every time we’ve driven to Wisconsin since then, my kids request that we take the same route, and we do. Because to them, the longer route doesn’t mean five more agonizing hours in a car anymore. Now it means they’ve been given permission to slow down, enjoy the ride, and create memories that last a lifetime.

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Denae Jones

Contributing Columnist

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