I think there’s an art to truly enjoying life. And it has nothing to do with getting rich or ripped or admired or acclaimed.
I believe that if you can’t find genuine enjoyment in the smallest of things…having a stimulating conversation…relaxing with the right person…getting through a successful workout…you won’t likely find it in “bigger” things either.
If you told me that a few years ago, I would have scoffed.
I had the idea that I had to earn the right to take enjoyment in the little things. And that this right could only be earned through diligence and accomplishment. Accordingly, my sole focus in life was achieving goals and relieving some of the internal pressure I felt to realize what I thought I was capable of. Only then, I thought, I could comfortably leave my warpath for something a bit more scenic. Only then could I find “simple” things worthwhile.
Well, I was wrong.
No matter what I achieved, pressure readings remained the same. Context changed but there it was, bearing down on me just as it always had.
Building the body I had always dreamed about did little to relieve the pressure of feeling like “is this it?” If only I were stronger. If only I had better genetics, if I only could eat more and stay lean.
Making more money did little to relieve the pressure of wanting more. Just for the sake of more. It no longer had to do with paying bills or saving up for something important. It just became a way to keep score and mine just felt too damn low. Compared to what? I don’t know. Compared to people with higher scores.
Having nicer things did little to relieve the pressure of wanting the cooler car, the bigger home, the more extravagant widgets. I was chasing a sheen that seemed to fade quicker and quicker.
Selling hundreds of thousands of books, building one of the biggest fitness blogs on the Net, launching a successful supplement company, and meeting and helping thousands of people did little the relieve the pressure of “what’s next?” Of wanting to climb the bigger, more treacherous mountain in the distance.
Well, eventually I learned that these pressures aren’t like a fog that eventually dissipates–they’re like gravity. You don’t grope around in the dark until the sun finally bakes it away–you learn to operate within its sphere…to feel its heft and smile.
The lesson I eventually learned was inspired by a quote from the legendary writer Kurt Vonnegut:
“When things are going sweetly and peacefully, please pause a moment, and then say out loud, ‘If this isn’t nice, what is?'”
That is…if I can’t find enjoyment in this moment here and now…no matter how simple it is…when will I ever be able to?
In short, I realized that no amount of objective things or accomplishments was going to give me happiness or contentment. I didn’t have to earn this right for myself–I had to grant it. And that didn’t require millions of dollars, millions of books sold, or millions of Facebook followers. I’ll gladly take all that too, but I no longer hold my conscience hostage against these milestones.
I still feel the same pressures as I’ve always felt…pressure to be more…do more…have more…but I have a new way of dealing with them. When they weigh a bit too heavily, I stop and ask, “If this isn’t nice, what is?”
If watching a Star Wars cartoon with my son isn’t nice, what is?
If sneaking away for a dinner date with my wife isn’t nice, what is?
If playing this round of golf with my dad isn’t nice, what is?
If doing work I love, just for its own sake, isn’t nice, what is?
It all comes down to how we choose to perceive our lives and the world around us. And it’s captured nicely in the following quote:
“If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal — that is your success.”
-Henry David Thoreau
Anyone can do this, regardless of their circumstances. And those that can are far better off than those that can’t.