During years of urban and suburban living, my wife Heather and I would look for chances to escape to our “happy place.” When the stress became too much and we just needed a moment to catch our breath and spend time in nature, we’d head north.
Most often, Traverse City, Michigan, was our destination. We would spend a long weekend recharging, hiking the trails and exploring Sleeping Bear Dunes, eating fresh food, and breathing in the crisp air.
After a few days, we would begin the trek home and spend much of the four-hour drive fantasizing about how nice it would be to spend all of our time in our happy place while lamenting how unrealistic the whole idea was. After all, we had a family to raise, businesses to run, and responsibilities to look after. Maybe after we retire, we’d conclude, while exiting off the highway.
But year after year, the allure of our happy place would keep pulling us back, and that nagging desire to make our intermittent escapes our everyday existence persisted. The obvious and irrefutable logic of the truth we were denying was inescapable: We only have one life to live, so why wait until retirement—an uncertain, future outcome—to live how we want, where we want?
The Fisherman and the Businessman
There’s a story, attributed to many different cultures, about a businessman on vacation who comes across a fisherman on the beach of a small coastal village who is lazily casting his line into the sea. The young, ambitious businessman, puzzled as to why the fisherman was “wasting” his time rather than grinding away to make a real living, chastises the fisherman to scale his operation, hire others to work for him, and buy a fleet of boats.
The fisherman replied, “And then what?”
Frustrated, the businessman said, “You can get rich, retire, and spend your days fishing on the beach and enjoying the sunset!”
The fisherman, with a bemused smile on his face, nodded at the businessman, who failed to grasp the irony of it all. The fisherman then turned his attention back to the sparkling sea.
Like the fisherman, who spends his days doing what he finds fun and fulfilling, our move was motivated by a desire to stop putting our dreams on layaway and instead incorporate more of what we hoped to be doing into what we actually did. For us, that meant moving closer to the lakes, beaches, trails, and hills that would allow us to swim, paddle, bike, hike, and ski as much as we wanted.
Making this transition required a lot of work. At times, we looked back at our decision with angst and doubt. “Did we make a big mistake?” we’d ask ourselves. “Should we have been more responsible about our future?”
These types of questions are natural with any life transformation. We learned that bucking notions of conventional wisdom is hard because every step involves grappling with societal norms that suggest that we were doing it wrong.
Now, on the other side, I can unequivocally say that we did the right thing for us.
Sounds pretty stark, right? So what to do?
Your Happy Place Can Be Any Place
Is there an unlived life inside of you? Is the voice in your head calling you to something more? Are you postponing happiness for an uncertain future?
I shared our journey toward happiness not because it’s the right journey for everyone—far from it. We found our happy place, which required a physical move, but a happy place can be any place. In almost every circumstance, it’s possible to incorporate more joy into life through everyday intentional living. Indeed, fulfillment is much more about how one lives than where one lives.
Finding your happy place begins with answering some tough questions: What do I want? What brings me joy? What am I putting off that I should be doing now?
Then: What hard choices must I make to make it happen?
Everyone is different. Everyone’s circumstances are different. But we are all alike in the sense that our lives consist of a never-ending series of choices, and our happiness and fulfillment derive from the consequences of those choices. Not making a choice is a choice itself.
It’s easy to go through life on autopilot. Too often, people’s lives consist of two contradictory stories, one playing out in their heads and another through their existence. The untold story is one of passion and adventure, the other a melancholy tale of suppressed desire. The point is, if you don’t write your own story, someone else surely will. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.”
Yes, of course, it’s important to plan for the future. It would be irresponsible to throw caution to the wind and live only for the moment. But isn’t it just as foolish to forego what you truly want, now, on the chance that it will be waiting for you later?
The average person lives 27,325 days. How many days do you have left? As the old saying goes, this is not a dress rehearsal.
Find your happy place, wherever that may be. Make choices that bring you closer to tapping your life’s unfulfilled potential. Make it count.
Jay Harrington is an author, lawyer-turned-entrepreneur, and runs a northern Michigan-inspired lifestyle brand called Life and Whim. He lives with his wife and three young girls in a small town and writes about living a purposeful, outdoor-oriented life.