It's remarkable how little a human needs to live happily. I often forget that.
While walking the dog on a 5-degree morning, I wonder how I could ever live without a hood on my puff coat, or even without a puff coat - but I could.
Sometimes I see people walking around in sweatshirts while I'm practically bundled in a sleeping bag. Usually these people are young men, 18 to 22, and their hair is freshly gelled. The tips of their ears blossom in the frost. Their eyes snap to me, dressed so differently, and I feel soft, so very soft. And warm.
Why shun warmth that's immediately in my possession?
I didn't always have this down jacket, though, so I know I could do without. I would even get used to it and find myself in contented moments, completely forgetting everything I don't have. The greater pain is not the lack of something, it is to get used to something and then lose it.
It's a similar feeling whenever my car breaks down. I expect it to drive me from A to B with the turn of a key and then I'm furious when it fails me. I've had a habit of ignoring my car even though I depend on it for so much.
Everything from flat tires to six-month insurance premiums have nipped me in the butt and ruined plenty of weekends.
I'm trying to get better about investing in maintenance - even life maintenance like doctor visits - and setting money aside. It's like paying homage to everything I take for granted. That's when surprises happen.
My dad surprised me last week by paying my car insurance after the bill arrived in his mailbox. Suddenly I had an extra $280.
So I booked a nice room in Moab for Valentine's weekend. Sure, there are plenty of "responsible" things I could have spent the money on, like new car tires or extra payments on the credit card. But if I'm solely invested in my problems - too cheap to spring for a nice date every so often - how will my girlfriend interpret my priorities?
Life ain't all problems when you look at it right. So Moab it was.
For days, Mandi could only guess where we were going until we passed Fruita on Interstate 70. Just that little anticipation added a lot of joy around the house.
Not only that, Moab was sunny. Not that it mattered. Snow or shine, hiking through Arches National Park was going to be relaxing because we had a warm, luxurious room waiting in town. No tent for us, not this time.
I didn't realize how used to a tent I was until Mandi brought it up in December.
"I want to go on a vacation sometime where we're not in a tent!" she pecked.
"Nonsense, we've stayed in hotels ..." I started, then paused, thinking.
"Yeah, we've had hotels AFTER camping," she said. "And not very often."
She was right! How funny that I'd always been so happy to toil in the wilderness and live in the dirt on just about every single vacation I've had in 20 years. I never thought about it until then. I just hope I don't get used to plush hotels.
Am I soft for choosing a fleeting, ritzy experience when there is an infinite amount of bills to pay? You bet. That's why I have a woman cuddled at my side.
I thought all this when I walked the dog, swathed in the huge red jacket Mandi gave me for our first Christmas together.
Happiness is not taking life for granted.
- "Open Space" appears on the second and fourth Friday of the month. Derek Franz writes for the Eagle Valley Enterprise and lives in Carbondale. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.