Friday, March 22, 2013

Unexpected Success in Common Hours

Walden Pond
Walden Pond (Picture from NPR)
Walden, by Henry David Thoreau, is and always has been one of my favorite books.  The stripped-down, laid bare life he chose, and what he learned from that experience, has fascinated readers for one hundred and  fifty years. I particularly love the oft-quoted lines from the conclusion: 

"... if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined,he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours."
Just now I am watching the morning sun come through the dozens of pine trees that surround our place here in the foothills and I am keenly aware of how blessed we are to be here.
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The other day I read an article about the varying degrees of satisfaction that people find in retirement and was interested to learn that a key differentiator in satisfaction with this stage of life is the difference between focusing on what an individual hoped would be rather than choosing to focus upon what could be.

Those whose disappointment is greatest seem to see their present as a dreary imitation of what they had hoped for; rather like hoping for a closet full of Armani suits, only to discover that your wardrobe consists of second-hand knock-offs that have been badly designed and even more poorly sewn.

In contrast, those who feel their lives in retirement are most enjoyable seem to focus on what could be.  Perhaps they come to realize they are not going to own a villa on the shores of South Lake Tahoe.  Instead of stewing and brewing about it, they decide to enjoy renting a cabin in that area as often as their resources allow.

Perhaps the large and loving, close-knit family they had envisioned filling their golden years turns out instead to be far-flung and very much engaged in their own pursuits.  Therefore, they go visit when they can, invite family to come stay when they are in the area, and use email, phones, Skype , etc. the rest of the time to maintain a connection.
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Allowing ourselves to become fixated on what we hoped would be, rather than focusing on what actually could be is to choose unhappiness. Surely, only a fool or a masochist would choose unhappiness.

We don't always like to admit this.  It is easier to allow ourselves to indulge in the fallacy that "this is just the way things turned out."  While that may occasionally be true, more often it is not.

The fact is that we always have a choice.  Viktor Frankl articulated this searingly in his classic book, Man's Search for Meaning, on his experiences in a WWII concentration camp. Even in those horrific circumstances, he believed he had a choice as to how to respond to life.  He chose courage and kindness as his only weapons against despair and cruelty.  He survived and later triumphed.
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Whether adopting an outlook of resentment and bitterness, or choosing an attitude of gratitude, we always have a choice.  We can passively allow life to happen, or we can actively make a life for ourselves.

Something recently brought this home to me. Two different long time acquaintances said something to the effect that the *LOC and I were the only people they knew who were "living out their retirement dreams."  Really? Guess they forgot what life was like for us this time last year. And the year before that.

It is true that, after several years of looking and hoping, we were able to move from a city to a small town in the Northern California foothills.  We do get to travel some and we try to take advantage of what this season of life has to offer.  Some days I almost feel guilty, we have so much for which to be grateful.  From this perspective we have, indeed, found "a success unexpected in common hours."  How marvelous.

But then I recall all the years wherein we made choices; less of this, fewer of those, less frequently some other thing - not a life of lack or penury; but a deliberate lifestyle of living below our means.  For example, instead of getting a new car every year or two (as my father often did) we drove our vehicles eight or ten years each, sometimes more.  That choice alone probably paid for every trip we have ever taken.

Do we have regrets?  Yes, some.  Did we achieve all we had hoped to do?  Not all.  Is our life all that we hoped it would be?  Not quite. We are both well acquainted with loss and heartache.  Who isn't?

But are we enjoying what we can make of where we are and what we have right now?  Oh, yes. Furthermore, we are forever grateful, as we know that it could have been much different.

John Greenleaf Whittier wrote,

                "Of all sad words of tongue or pen,
                  The saddest are these, 'It might have been '."
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Let us then choose to focus on what is and could be, rather than what might have been.  It is a worthwhile effort.

These "common hours" are a treasure that money cannot buy. Further, it appears that perhaps they are not all that common.                        # # # # #

Hope your common hours are filled with quiet satisfaction in what can be.  Until next time, your common life commentator ...Marsha
(*Lovable Old Coot)
Question:  What are you taking particular satisfaction in during your common hours?  Just wondering.


  1. Such a wise post. I read Viktor Frankl's book many years ago and still love its wisdom and depth. Happiness and satisfaction are only as far away as we choose to make them.

    Right now, I am taking particular satisfaction in working out at the gym and seeing how my body responds when I thought there was no hope for that at all. It's never too late.

    1. Shelly,
      Congratulations on following such a healthy lifestyle. I could take a lesson or two from you. These days gardening seems to be my main exercise. :)

  2. I also read Viktor Frankl's book and often thought about choices. Imagine that? My blog is named Heart Choices! I often say that we don't always get to choose our circumstances but we do get to choose our responses.

    Very thought provoking post Marsha! You share much wisdom.

    Blessings and love,

    1. Debbie - So true, we don't get to choose our circumstances, but we can choose our responses. We can all use a reminder on that point from time to time. Have a good weekend.

  3. Ouch...this was for me and I still have years before retirement...but the truth for my situation now is what I needed...thanks for posting and for truth

    1. Janette,
      I can surely empathize with the - ouch ! - on looking at our present circumstances with gratitude. Last year this time I was on 24/7 care-giving duty, and there were days when it was hard to maintain a positive outlook.
      Praying your circumstances take a turn for the better.

  4. What an intelligent and well-written post. Thank you. I take satisfaction in my children's success, in the kindness I can show to others, and in knowing Elvis Aaron Schwarz, who loves to make me laugh.


    1. Janie, Thank you. It is, indeed, a joy to watch our children succeed, and to show kindness to others. Have a wonderful day.

  5. I have not chosen a task or focus for this time in my life, I spent the first several years of retirement getting used to my husbands dislike of being retired! Now that he's settled down and accepted it, that stress is gone.
    I have found that God seems to taking me in a deeper knowledge of Him, something I didn't have time for or wasn't mature enough to do when I was younger. It's a wonderful time because I've found a whole new place of encouraging others which is really amazing since I'm basically a hermit! Miracles happen even in old age, LOL!

    1. Pat,
      Even if you did not "choose" a retirement focus, it would seem that one chose you - encouraging others. What a great way to move through
      your days. Blessings to you.