Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Plans that work and plans that don't

We made our plans for yesterday over a week ago. It was a so-called professional day for the kids, so I condensed my work day into a three-hour morning session and postponed most of my deadlines until the next day. The plan was to leave at noon to pick up Tim’s friend Will, drive to Kimball Farm in Westford, have a picnic at the picnic area there, play a round or two of mini-golf, indulge in Kimball Farm ice cream cones, and head home.

But nothing quite worked out the way we planned. Will and Tim wanted to spend some time at home first playing a video game which went on much longer than we expected. It was 1:30 by the time we left the house, rather than noon. We arrived at Kimball’s with our grocery bag full of sandwiches and chips, only to find signs all over the picnic area saying that food from outside, as opposed to food purchased at Kimball’s, was not allowed. We pretended not to see the signs and sat down at a picnic table anyway, at which point we were swarmed by bees.

We moved our picnic away from the general eating area and over to a bench closer to the mini golf area. The bees were no longer a problem and no one seemed to mind that we were eating our own sandwiches, but then Holly pointed to a different sign – one indicating that mini golf was closed for the day.

“Oh well,” I said. “We’ll finish our picnic, get some ice cream, and think of some other outdoor activity instead.” The kids suggested we go to a park we like in a nearby town: Holly could play on the playground equipment there and the boys would toss a Frisbee around. I gave them money and sent them off to the ice cream counter while I cleaned up our picnic.

But the ice cream counter was closed as well, so we reorganized our plans once again: we’d go to an ice cream parlor in another town and a different park near there. It would take a while to get to, but we had the rest of the afternoon free.

The ice cream parlor part of that plan worked out well, but when we got to the park nearby, we were confronted with yet another sign, this one saying that the playground equipment had been removed from that park and new equipment would soon be installed.

It did seem as if an improbable number of our plans had fallen through, but we all agreed that it didn’t matter too much. We were having fun anyway. We’d had our picnic and some very good ice cream, and the boys said Holly could play Frisbee with them since there was no playground available to her. She wasn’t sure she could handle a game of Frisbee, but the boys were patient and taught her the basics. I sat in the sun and watched.

As I sat there, I thought about something Gretchen Rubin writes in “The Happiness Project”: namely, that one criterion for something being fun is that you look forward to it. When I read that, I realized that for me, it’s often not the case: I usually tend to underestimate how enjoyable something will be, with the excuse that pessimism allows the opportunity to be pleasantly surprised.

And I’m pleasantly surprised a lot, I admit; everything from parties to coffee dates to vacations tend to be more fun than I expected. But after reading Gretchen Rubin’s thoughts on this, I’ve started to think maybe I’m missing out; maybe I’d be having even more fun if I allowed myself to anticipate good times a little bit more confidently.

On the other hand, yesterday proved that sometimes plans don’t really work out, so you might be anticipating a bunch of things that don’t end up happening, like our picnic/mini-golf/ice cream stand scheme. So maybe what actually helps most is just anticipating with confidence that something fun will happen, though you might not know exactly what.

I hoped, and suspected, that the afternoon with Tim, Holly and Will would be a good time. And as I sat in the late-afternoon sun watching them play Frisbee, I conceded that it was. Despite all our plans falling through, we were outdoors and happy and drinking in fresh air and sated with ice cream. Not the fun we’d planned on, but a great time nevertheless.

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