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Davis, California

Monday, July 15, 2024

The Sterling Compass

When I was a wee child, I desperately wanted a Power Rangers Megazord so, I asked for one for my birthday. I often couldn’t sleep at night, imagining how happy I would be on the glorious day that transforming plastic robot of justice would finally be mine.

My birthday couldn’t seem to arrive fast enough, so one day I decided to take a harmless peek in the back of my parents’ closet where I knew they always hid our presents. Finding it almost immediately and not yet wrapped, I cradled my prize like Koko the gorilla might one of her kittens.

One might think I was more excited now that I knew I was getting exactly what I wanted, but truth be told, I wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong; I was definitely still excited, but when my birthday arrived and I finally got what I wanted so badly, I was not as happy as I imagined I would be. In fact, now that I had the Megazord, I learned I had to have the White Falcon Zord to complete the set. If only I possessed the White Falcon Zord, only then would I be truly happy…

Okay, so I was kind of a brat, but that’s beside the point.

This Mighty Morphin’ experience taught me a valuable life lesson that I find perfectly applicable to those about to graduate.

We often base our notions of happiness on conditional “if, then” statements. One might say, “If only I could have what I used to have, then I would be happy” or “if only I could one day experience that, then I would be happy.” These thoughts produce nostalgia when applied to the past and desire when applied to the future, both leaving us dissatisfied with the present.

I’d bet my Benjamin buttons that lying at the heart of many graduates’ impending fear of leaving college is the wistful longing for a return to what once was. Thinking the best four years of their lives are over, they believe they are doomed to fall into the toil and drudgery (and soberness) of the “real” world. Oh, what they would do to go back to freshman year … to the innocence, the ignorance, the bliss. If only they could go back and do it all again, then they would be so happy.

But then there are those who allow themselves to be consumed by some idealized vision of the distant future where they see themselves having happier lives than they currently do. Anticipation is the foundation of hope and there isn’t anything wrong with looking forward to the future. We should be careful not to frame our hope for the future in terms of “if, then” statements. For example, by saying, “If only I had that flashy sports car (or Megazord with White Falcon attachment), then I’d be happy.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau once wrote: “In the uncertainty of human life, let us avoid above all the false prudence of sacrificing the present for the future; this is often to sacrifice what is for what will not be. Let us make man happy at all ages lest, after many cares, he die before having been happy.”

Preoccupied with a longing for the past and desire for the future, we often miss what actually matters: the present. In focusing so much on what we no longer possess or don’t yet have, we fail to appreciate what is already ours.

Imagine you spent your entire life waiting for that Megazord while lamenting the present, placing all hope for happiness on a later date. What if this day never came? And often when it does, you will find yourself looking even further to the future for happiness. Combine this with allowing yourself to drown in nostalgia and you’ve got a recipe for a pretty miserable life.

But there is a better way, I promise.

What we need to be happy lies not in the past nor in the distant future, but is often staring us right in the face here in the present. And lucky for us, all it usually takes to realize this is to simply open our eyes.

Rather than longing for the past, let’s be grateful for the experiences we were fortunate enough to have. Rather than obsessing over the happiness we hope to experience in the future, let’s be grateful for all that we have today.

Timon and Pumbaa summed it up in two words: “Hakuna Matata.”

It means no worries.

And you shouldn’t worry because as chaotic as the world may seem, things have a way of working out in the end.

And I’m done.


MIKE HOWER hopes you won’t tell his mom and dad about the Megazord escapade. He’s pretty sure the statute of limitations would protect him from getting grounded, though. He would also like to thank you for your readership and wishes you all the best of luck in your pursuit of happiness. Contact him one last time at mahower@ucdavis.edu.


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