When I was a young adult, first living on my own and newly experiencing adult things, I found myself constantly surprised by the mundane.
It was little things, mainly, like how the household toilet paper supply didn’t magically replenish itself. Or how the bathroom hand towel had to be laundered — by me, of all the indignities — in order to keep it from smelling foul.
Groceries were an issue. I knew, of course, that food cost money, but I had no idea how much, and never considered that when food went to waste, money went to waste as well. My parents tried to educate me, but until it was my own hard-earned cash slipping through my fingers, the lesson fell on deaf ears.
The biggest surprise, however, took me a few years of living on my own to learn, and it was this: Happy things don’t just happen. They happen because I decide to do them.
That might seem obvious to some, and they’d be right. But for every one of you snorting at the utter obviousness of that statement, someone else paused, went back to read it again, and wondered how they had never thought about it in that light before.
The realization came for me in one clarifying moment during my senior year of college. Most of my friends were out of town for New Year's Eve, and I was lonely. I brooded for the day, remembering my childhood, when there always seemed to be a party with neighborhood friends. I wondered why I had no plans.
Then I realized: those parties did not happen by accident. Someone planned and made them happen. Adults tend to do that for children, because they love them and want them to be happy. As adults, we have to take over the proverbial reins and make our own happy things happen. It is easy, as a young adult especially, to sit in place and wonder why happy things are no longer happening to you.
Fast forward to 2020. Along with most Americans, my family is sheltering in place, home except for the occasional trip to the pharmacy or grocery store. I have entertained myself with all the obvious stuck-at-home things, such as catching up on creating photo albums and binging 1980s sitcoms. Hello again, Sam and Diane.
But even the cheesy ’80s laugh track quickly lost its luster. I was bored and uncertain what to do about it, then remembered that New Year's Eve revelation from over two decades ago: Happy things don’t just happen.
The 2020 version: Quarantine activities don’t just happen. I have to make them happen. Right now, that means fighting the boredom by trying new things, and creating activities that in our normal, fast-paced world might seem frivolous or even a waste of time.
For example, that bread recipe I’ve been using for the past two decades? I experimented with it and added a pesto filling, rolling up the dough so I’d have a pretty swirl of pesto in my bread.
It did not have a pretty swirl. In fact, it was the ugliest loaf of bread I’ve ever baked, and it was almost too crumbly to eat. But playing around with my bread recipe did occupy my time for an extra hour. Then, while my ugly bread cooled, I attempted to teach my dog how to give me a high-five. That was marginally more successful, and occupied my mind for another half hour.
Neither activity amounted to much. But I took the reins, and I made something happen. That’s all we can ask of ourselves in this uncertain time.
That New Year's Eve all those years ago? When I realized I had to make my own happy memories? I cleaned my closet. I like to organize and bring order into my world, and that was the first time as a young adult that I did that in my own home. Cleaned up a large space. Organized it. Made it mine. All these years later, and I still remember it. Because I made it happen.
Kathleen Murphy is a freelance writer who lives and works in Duluth. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.