Those little things

[Versión en español aquí.]

The title of this post is the name of a song by Joan Manuel Serrat (worth it even if you don’t know Spanish, trust me on this one!), which is about the memories of “those little things, that rosy times left away in a corner, in a piece of paper, or in a drawer”.

In some sense, I’ve always been surprised by the difference between our “everyday I”, and our “nostalgic I”. Especially because the nostalgic I is a specialist in valuing those little things that seemed insignificant at the time. Those details that we stash away as mere memories, without being really aware of the power they would store later on.

That little thing we have stored in a drawer or a box (a hair band, a ring, maybe the tab of a can), that we never remember except for when we stumble upon it -typically while we are looking for something else-, and suddenly floods us with memories. For a brief moment, we can almost touch the past. A smell that comes back to our memory. Maybe a story. The memory of a love that is no longer. Ashes from our past.

It’s a funny feeling, nostalgia. It’s sad, but at the same time, it’s happiness. We miss that past precisely because the past was happy. And I think that memory is actually wiser than it seems: it knows that, after all, it’s the good things what we want to keep with us forever -the bad ones are there to learn a lesson from them, and then move on-. In some sense, part of that sadness comes from feeling that we were happier then than we are now. But in another sense, the warm feeling we get also makes us feel how lucky we were; it reminds us why life is worth it after all. And it reminds us that, in the end, the only things that last are the good things.

Some months ago, I was sitting on the couch at my girlfriend’s home. I just came back from Cádiz after Christmas, and I was in Madrid for a couple of days before going back to Ulm. With a glass of wine in my hand, and a handful of minutes just to think, there was only one sentence that came to my mind: “I’m happy.”

And you? Are you happy?

I ask because after thinking about it, I realized something: sometimes we believe that we aren’t happy simply because we don’t allow ourselves to be happy. Because we don’t stop for a second to appreciate all we have in our lives.

Because we have our eyes set only in the things we don’t have. In those things that (we think) stand between us and happiness. If only we had them, we’d be complete.

Porque en lo que tenemos fija nuestra mirada es en las cosas que no tenemos. En aquello que creemos que nos falta para estar completos.

“When I get X, then I’ll be happy.”
“When I have a son/get married/…, then I’ll be happy.”
“If only I had X… I’m sure then I’d be happy.”
“If I lost X pounds, then I’d be happy, no doubt!”

Sometimes we get so obsessed with the things we don’t like about our life, or with those things that we want to accomplish, that we end up forgetting that we are already happy. And we stop being happy simply because we make ourselves believe that we can’t be happy until we get that thing we’re missing, or until we finally get rid of that thing we don’t want. Maybe until we finally solve that problem that seems to never disappear.

Have you stopped, just for a second, to think about all the reasons why you are lucky simply for being who you are? For having around you the people you have? For your accomplishments?

I said at the beginning that I found surprising this difference between our everyday I, and the nostalgic I that appears whenever we encounter one of those little things in our drawer. That nostalgic I who has forgotten all the reasons why we thought we weren’t happy at the time (do you remember how sad you were when you broke up with your first love? how pissed you were after that small public embarrassment?), and that makes us believe that in that past moment we were happy even if we didn’t think so at the time. Many times it also turns those reasons into reasons of fleeting happiness (didn’t you smile when you thought about how sad you were after you broke up with your first love?). Maybe we should learn from it.

Learn to appreciate that we don’t need that much to be happy.
Learn to appreciate that life is great today, just as it was yesterday, and just as it will be tomorrow. That we aren’t missing anything to be happy, because we don’t need anything that we don’t have already. And that even that extra baggage that we might be carrying, doesn’t matter that much. Learning to appreciate that if life is sending clouds at us today, they won’t stay forever.

Maybe we should learn to appreciate that everything that is preventing us from being happy, won’t even be in our memories in a matter of months.

Maybe it’s about learning to forget, before having forgotten.

About learning to look at life with the eyes of nostalgia, where what we’re missing is less important than what we already have.

Open your eyes.
Open that drawer.
And never forget those little things:
they’re the only ones that are worth it.

Be happy.


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