My 5-year-old, Hubba, has been a train-lover for as long as I can remember. This last Christmas he got an amazing train layout for someone his age, complete with bridges, a crane station, sound effects and a remote control with forward and reverse action. Every time we set it up on the kitchen table he is glued to it for hours on end, re-building the layout of the track and watching the engine chug uphill with random items placed in the freight cars it pulls from behind. There is only one problem with this little slice of train heaven and that is his 20-month-old brother, O.
Have you ever seen the movie Lilo and Stitch? Remember how Stitch can not stand to be still? How he goes crazy when he is not destroying something? That would be O. When Hubba's trains are out O's main objective is to discover a way to get onto the table and maniacally throw train pieces to the floor.
A few days back, this was the struggle I was dealing with. Frantic screams of Mom, he's getting on the table!! from Hubba were becoming draining. I was trying to organize my kitchen cupboards and somewhere around the 4th plea to remove O from the table I found my solution: a tiny wind-up train with a small, circular track which I had purchased for a quarter at a secondhand store last summer. The original plan was to place it on Hubba's birthday cake last October but it had been forgotten in the back of the cupboard.
I placed the small track on one side of the table and while winding the train told O, "This is your train. That is Hubba's train. Okay?" and then set the wind-up engine down on the track. He squealed with delight as the train made its way around the tiny circle and was fascinated by this new distraction. Perfect.
As I got back to organizing O let out a frustrated cry. I turned to see Hubba playing with O's little train. "I want this train," he told me. "Sure," I answered, feeling clever, "then O can just have your train set. Okay?"
"Okay," he replied, winding the cheap train and watching it circle the minuscule track.
"Hubba," I reasoned, "you want to give O your big train set with the bridges and remote controller?"
"Yeah," he answered, winding the dime-store train again, "he can have it."
Don't you hate when they call your bluff?
The whole thing brought this comparison to mind: how often do we have something that is wonderful and amazing only to see that someone else has something we don't have... and then our focus changes. Suddenly what we have is not good enough and we want something else; something we don't have and think that we want or even need. When this happens it can be difficult to recognize and appreciate how happy we really already are.
I'm not only talking about possessions like gadgets and cars and houses and stuff, but about things like people and happiness and time and silence... and the list goes on and on. Why is it so easy to get in that mindset of the-grass-is-always-greener-somewhere-else and so difficult to see what amazing things and blessings we DO have and to just be thankful?
I can't even begin to count how many times in my own life I have found myself looking at another person's things, their place in life, even something as simple as the number of comments on their blog (you know it's true... they're like blog-applause!) and wishing that that were me. I realize that I need to stop recognizing the things I don't have and start counting my blessings instead. THAT is where true happiness lies.
I think that the idea I am trying to express is well defined in a quote by Epictetus:
He is a wise man who does not grieve
for the things which he has not,
but rejoices for those which he has.
Still, try explaining that whole concept to a 5-year-old...