So another chapter in that how-to-be-happy book is headed, “Don’t think ‘what if?'” And I thought, “Why not?” I mean, I think “What if?” a dozen times a day. “What if I put basil in the frittata?” “What if I just mulched the beds along the fence?” “What if I had Nick and Nita get married?” Then I read the paragraph that explained it and saw that it was only about the past, as in “What if I’d done that instead?” Okay, with that I agree wholeheartedly. The past is prologue, and you know how I feel about prologues.
“What ifs” about the past are useless beyond learning from the experience, as in “I did that and it didn’t work, so I won’t do that again.” It’s the “What if I hadn’t been so damn stupid?” thoughts that are the futile happiness killers, futile and dangerous because the past informs the present, it’s part of who we are. “What if I hadn’t married the wrong guy?” I wouldn’t have the best daughter. “What if I hadn’t been so stupid about real estate?” I wouldn’t have lived in such marvelous places and had such great memories. “What if I hadn’t been born where I was to the parents I was in the time I was?” I wouldn’t be the fabulous me. Every time I do a Q&A, somebody says, “What do you regret about your writing career/your life?” And every time I say, “Nothing” and mean it.
That doesn’t mean I didn’t make mistakes, I’ve made huge mistakes, dear god, I’ve lost fortunes and friends, cried bitterly and raged fiercely, left wreckage in my path and then wrecked the path itself. BIG mistakes. But all of those things were done by earlier Jennys who didn’t know what I know now, who were just doing their best, and I need to honor those earlier versions of me, not disown them, not only because I’ll be negating my own past, but if I spend all my time regretting the places I tripped and fell, I’m not living in the now. Every minute I spend regretting the past, I’m wasting my life in the present, filling it with regrets instead of joy, I’m blaming my past selves and cheating my future memories by making them about things I cannot change. The only thing that thinking “What if?” about the past does is damage the present and kneecap my happiness.
Also, I’m not putting basil in the frittata, I think I’m gonna mulch those beds, and I’m still up in the air about the marriage, but I’m starting to really love the idea that they get the license and it makes the next three days more complicated.
So what are you contemplating for future happiness? (Obviously you have no what-ifs about the past, you’re much too happy for that.)