It was the first Christmas without my mom who had died in April, and we dreaded the grief and longing that would come with what was once the happiest of times for our family. The pain of loss slowly ebbs over time but surges with special occasions such as Thanksgiving, birthdays and anniversaries.
My young children were a great consolation. In each of them, I could see some of my mom; she had touched and influenced them in different ways and the love I shared with them was a continuation of my mother’s love.
My daughter was 5 and my sons 9 and 11. Their joy would bring me joy.
We decided to go away that first Christmas, and because they were young we would make it a surprise.
One night just before Christmas, my wife and I packed each of their little suitcases and loaded them in our van. On what they thought would be another lazy day at home, we woke them up early and told them we were going on a mystery trip.
At the airport was the first surprise. Grampa was there with Auntie Lisa and Uncle Barry.
The kids picked up clues along the way and each of them guessed where we were going at different points on our journey. The magical moment was when we drove past the Magic Kingdom and I saw my son’s dimpled smile as he said, “We’re going to Disneyland!”
The third surprise was going to Denny’s the next morning before our first day in the park and meeting my brother, his wife and their children.
As we entered the Happiest Place on Earth, I told the kids to note how much happier all the families were once they entered the gates. Of course, we saw grownups arguing, some screaming at their kids and kids throwing tantrums.
It was a gentle reminder that happiness can’t be found in another place where everything is perfect and you get everything you want. There is no such place.
Happiness can’t be found in a perfect relationship with a perfect partner because none of us is perfect. We all travel with baggage though we could choose what to pack.
Ten years later, my children are much older and their lives too complicated for us to pack their bags and wake them up for another mystery trip.
Happiness can’t be found in the things we buy, the clothes we wear, the vehicles we drive or the places we live. It cannot be found in an amusement park or at an exotic destination. All these things can bring pleasure but no lasting happiness.
Happiness can only be found in the present and in our own hearts. It requires acceptance of the past and the present and appreciation of what we have, particularly the people in our lives today. To be happy is to graciously make the most of what we have.