As I get older, percentage wise there are less new stories that soar into the top 5% of my life experience. That might sound pathetic but what I mean is that, on balance, nostalgia when it hits is about longer ago than last week. There are many very happy memories being made, but lots of the ones that burn brightest have been burning for a while. This isn’t unusual, apparently. I’m reading this book about time perception, and there are pseudo-scientific reasons for why experiences from our formative years loom large. Apparently it’s to do with first time experiences taking up more space in our memories, feeling more significant, making us recall those years most full of the new as the heady, fun-filled, endless ones we long to return to. That makes sense I guess.
But what does it mean now when you have those moments that you know you’ll remember forever? How are these things governed when I’ve had a type of almost everything, before? If it isn’t my first holiday, then why does it sparkle as though it’s brand new, every part of it fizzing with possibility? If it isn’t our first conversation then why does this one feel heavier, shinier than the ones before?
I think it’s got something to do with expectations. Surely part of off the charts happiness is when it sneaks up on you, when you expect negative or neutral and you end up hundreds in the plus column. Marveling. Surprised.
I am my own worst enemy when it comes to expectations. Only recently have I stopped expecting brass bands and bundles of balloons every birthday, the whole world stopping just for me. I doubt I will ever have a surprise party, because I’m too damn suspicious. The times people have tried it’s been foiled by an abundance of chips in the cupboard or a request to change my clothes. My default is high expectations. This doesn’t bode well for pleasantly surprised.
You can see how this might be dangerous… My high expectations don’t just apply to situations, but people. Show me a glimmer of promise and I expect the whole nine yards. It isn’t ok to be disappointed because someone is fallible, when I’m the queen of that island. Here I stand, flaky and unimpressive, insisting on nothing short of perfection. Nightmare.
Last week I went on a holiday with low expectations. They were low because there were too many variables – people, location, weather. I expected moments of tension, disappointing living conditions and not enough time to swim. Before we left I kept saying “I just want to read and lie in the sun” but I had a sense of foreboding that even that wouldn’t happen. My low expectations couldn’t have been met with a greater surprise.
No one wants to hear about someone else’s amazing holiday, not really. Suffice to say it was a sun-drenched, lazy swinging in hammock, ocean swimming, salty hair, pear cider kind of week. There was laughter and team yoga one morning, dolphins and whales in the afternoon, swing dancing one evening. There were movies and dinners, runs and picnics, afternoons spent reading while the sun set. I didn’t do one scrap of work. I didn’t feel one scrap of guilty. And I kept being thankful for all of us, sprawled out, passing bowls of chips, swapping funny stories and I wasn’t anxious or desperate to savour the moments, because being in them was a savouring. The difference between thinking you should be enjoying something and enjoying the heck out of it. For once I didn’t overanalyze myself out of experiencing. For once I felt present and calm and utterly content.
And so I’m trying to learn, though my brain resists, that not expecting everything all the time can be the better path. I am trying to be kinder, more generous. Thankful. This life I get to live keeps turning corners of new, so that the firsts and the bests aren’t confined to long ago after all.