how to enjoy life, or not

The longer I live the more I learn about how NOT to enjoy life. The opposite lesson is much harder to figure out – how to enjoy life. I have learned a lot about what makes life less than pleasant. Commuting, for one thing. Poor health, for another. Bad relations with my friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, and even just people on the street. Overeating. Spending money on crap that you don’t need 72 hours later. Worrying about the future.  Agonizing over small things. The list could go on and on.

Sea

What I’ve learned is that identifying the things that make life more enjoyable is difficult. You make think you know; you may think you like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain, but maybe that’s not a truly life-changing statement. You may say “I love my kids, they make life more enjoyable” – but is that true all the time? If you’re a parent you know that there are plenty of 3 am puke-on-you sessions that are not, by any measure of the word, enjoyable. You may say you enjoy money or free time or food or any number of things, but often that’s a passing enjoyment. The true measure of something that is truly enjoyable is something that is unrelenting, unending and endlessly renewable.

I can give a few examples of things that are enjoyable by that definition. Health. Nobody ever gets tired or ceases enjoying good health. You may take it for granted or ignore it, but trust me, you enjoy it. Nobody gets tired of learning new things, or gaining respect for work well done. Nobody gets tired of being loved. It can be taken to extremes – stalkers, etc. – but I’m talking about the normal healthy human expression of love. My daughter lights up like the sun over the ocean when I smile at her, and I can’t imagine ever getting tired of that. My son puts his head on my shoulder and, unprompted, says “Papa I love you.” I could hear that a billion times and not want a second of that time back. My wife smiles at me without any reason and I get thrown back to the early days of dating and the starry eyes.  Reading a good book is always enjoyable.  Good times with family and friends are never a disappointment.

I have realized that you have to be careful about what you focus on for your own happiness. I focus on money, for example.  Money is not, and should never be, the focus.  The acquisition of the ability to get what you want might be a focus, or financial freedom, or freedom from debt, or the power to do something meaningful or enjoyable with that money – but money itself is not the focus.  I focus on my kids, but my kids themselves are not the focus.   Making sure that I am the person that they need me to be, without reservations, should be the focus.  I cannot control how they react to me, but I can make myself the best possible parent I can be, and take pride in their reaction to that.  I can’t guarantee I can control my physical state (I have some control over my physical state, but none over genetics or chance).  I can take the steps to ensure that I have done what I could to prepare for whatever my body may throw at me in the future.

If you are looking for happiness in things, or other people, or external events you are bound to be disappointed. In the end, there is only one happiness – in making yourself into the best possible person you can be and hoping that doing so translates to benefits for the rest of the world (which translates to your family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, acquaintances and humanity).  It’s hard for me to remember that I can’t actually change the way my kids or my wife or my relatives think.  I can only make myself the happiest, most persuasive person I can be and hope that optimism transfers to them as well.  Hoping to change external events or other people is a great way to ensure that you don’t enjoy life.  Focus on improving yourself – as a person, a worker, a spouse, a parent, a friend, a son, a sister, a brother, a cousin, a citizen, whatever – the rest will follow.

photo credit: macieklew

7 comments

  • I have the same problem – I always think 'what if I had xx – would I then be happy?' – but then when I get those things, I just keep thinking about new things/situations that might make me happy.. 🙂

  • Excellent thoughts but I have to disagree somewhat with the concluding paragraph. Part of loving someone is focusing on their happiness and giving of yourself to that end. In turn, happiness and contentment are brought back to you. You are influencing those you love in that way, if you are loved in return.

  • Nice post and especially when the times are down, is the best time to appreciate what you have. Health I agree is taken for granted because it you are not healthy, you cannot enjoy anything in life and it would be costly. I also sometimes think happiness comes from being content with the things you can't stand. Like you mentioned wee hours of taking care of a baby. It should be thought of as a gift, not a burden. Granted I am far away from being a parent, but not letting the little things get to you helps you enjoy life so much better, and appreciating the little things, are what you will remember.

    Craig
    http://www.budgetpulse.com

  • Health and Youth. Most readers are fairly young here. Please enjoy every minute of your youth and relative health. I was there once. It might be hard for you to imagine yourself in your fifties and beyond now but that will come and fast.

    Don't abuse your body, feed it right and preserve it. It is easier to prevent major breaks (illnesses) in your body than to try and fix it when it is broken.

    I recently fell into yoga. I wish I started practicing it 10 years ago. It works for me. I feel sharper mentally and physically.

    Next, planning to sign up for a comedy sketch writing class. I believe that laughter might be just as important as food and water. I want to be around laughing people and people who create laughter.

  • Sundays used to be my day to reflect on this when I was younger and in grad school. I would usually be hung over and I'd start to think to myself “why am I studying writing? Who cares Why don't I just get a high paying job that'll get me oodles of money so I don't have to scrape anymore?”

    Thankfully, Monday would come and everything would go back to normal.

  • Great topic – seems like a very tough thing to define “happiness”, “true enjoyment”, etc but it's pretty simple when it comes down to it. I'm not an ardent follower of Chris Walker's teachings but his ” 5 laws of nature” basically point to this. Here is an article he wrote that I think readers of this post would enjoy – Rules for Being Human:
    http://chriswalker.typepad.com/chris_blog/2008/

  • Great topic – seems like a very tough thing to define “happiness”, “true enjoyment”, etc but it's pretty simple when it comes down to it. I'm not an ardent follower of Chris Walker's teachings but his ” 5 laws of nature” basically point to this. Here is an article he wrote that I think readers of this post would enjoy – Rules for Being Human:
    http://chriswalker.typepad.com/chris_blog/2008/