Having children is one of the most challenging and life changing experiences most of us will ever go through. As a result, it can be easy to fall into the trap of willing each phase of our children's lives to pass, without really taking the time to enjoy the here and now. Once I stop breastfeeding, I can wear normal clothes again. Once they start sleeping through, I will feel less tired. Once they are four, life will get easier. Once they are at school, I will have more time to myself. And sometimes, usually during a particularly bad tantrum, we even crave the life we had before we had children, seeing it as a utopian state of wild nights out, lie-ins, new restaurants, bars and far flung holidays. We forget that, back then, life didn't feel entirely complete either.
The truth is, life will always be unfulfilling if we let it. There will always be a challenge of some description standing in our way. And we can either embrace each one, and be proud of every obstacle we overcome, or we can let life pass us by, promising ourselves that the next phase will be more rewarding than the last. The only problem? We will always feel that sense of needing something more.
A wonderful quote from Alfred D. Souza reads:
"For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin - real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, or a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life."
Reading that quote makes you realise that there isn't a path to happiness. Happiness is simply a state of mind, achievable at any point in time. Looking at my own life, it would be easy to focus on the negatives. I have to work full-time, and feel guilty that I don't spend enough time with my son. My mum, who would have been a wonderful grandma, died at 65 and I miss her every day. My dad is stubborn and set in his ways. I bicker with my husband about stupid things that don't matter. I have two dogs that regularly trash our house. My nose is too big and my hair never does what I want it to. I broke the toilet seat yesterday and have no idea how to go about getting a new one. But there are also so many positives. My family is healthy. My job pays the bills and then some. My son makes me cry with laughter almost every day. My husband is my best friend and knows me better than anyone. My dad would drop anything to help me if I really needed him. I have fantastic in-laws who treat me like their daughter. Depending on which side of the coin I choose, I could be either very very depressed or very very happy.
So, my advice is this. Make a conscious decision to enjoy each and every moment of your life. See your glass as half full, not half empty. Appreciate the people in your life who love and trust you, however frustrating or irritating they may be. And, above all, remember that time waits for no one.
But what does that really mean in practical terms? Stop wanting to lose weight. Stop wanting your child to grow up that little bit more. Stop wanting your partner to change (they won't). Stop wanting that bigger house, those better clothes, that faster car. Stop thinking that you have another stage of your life to complete before things will get better. Because if you think like that, you will spend your whole life yearning for something that will never happen.
Happiness really is there if you want it. A hurdle is something to jump over (or even crawl under if you're feeling particularly despondent). But we shouldn't let it stop us from enjoying the scenery.