Do you allow yourself to enjoy life?
That might sound like a weird question. But hear me out.
We tend to presume that, left to our own devices, we will do the things that we enjoy doing. That without any outside pressure to pay the bills, or go to work, or clean the house… that we would be free to simply do what we enjoy. And that with that freedom, that is exactly what we would find ourselves doing.
But I think that’s a lie. It is for me anyway.
I did an experiment this morning. After I had woken up, and took my pills, and had my scrambled eggs, I felt terrible.
I felt the weight of all the things I “need” to do on my shoulders. Some were obvious, everyday things: the bills, the laundry, the hoovering… but mixed in were bigger, more abstract things: What am I doing with my life? Should I do “x” today? No, I’ll do “y”. Oooh, no, actually “z” makes the most sense…
I saw that my bass and amp were still set up in the living room from when I taught Sam the other day, and I had an idea for an experiment. I turned my phone onto “Do Not Disturb.” I set a timer for 1 hour, and put my phone’s metronome app on 30 beats per minute. And I just… played bass. Until the timer went off.
The purpose of my experiment was simple: “What will happen if I deliberately enjoy myself for an hour? If I allow myself to put my worries and anxieties and obligations on hold, just for an hour?” I picked playing bass because it was low-hanging fruit – I love playing bass. I wasn’t practicing, or playing anything specific. I just let my fingers do what they wanted. For an hour.
What happened was that about five minutes in, I felt fantastic. I had a great hour. And afterwards, I felt differently about the things I had been worrying about. Did they go away? Well, some of them did actually – the more abstract, existential things, at least. But even the ones that didn’t… well, they just didn’t seem so terrifying any more.
What is your priority?
Now, obviously I’m not telling you to go play bass for an hour. But what I do want you to do is to examine the role of enjoyment in your life.
Do you see it as a priority, or as a luxury? Because, personally, I am a real sucker for seeing it as a luxury. As something that would be nice to do “once the more important things are taken care of.” And I’ve come to see this as a very dangerous habit.
Why is it dangerous? Because whatever you decide is most important tends to stay most important. What you make a priority tends to remain a priority. What you put first, stays first.
If you think you need to get your finances in order before you can enjoy yourself, they’ll never be quite in order enough.
If you think you need to meet that special someone before you can enjoy yourself, nobody will ever be special enough.
If you think you need to learn more before you enjoy yourself… you get it – the goal-post just keeps shifting and shifting and shifting.
If you put enjoyment second, it will stay second. Forever.
What about the bills?
Now, you might be thinking that this all sounds very nice, Oliver, but we can’t all be spending every second of every day doing fun, pleasurable things. And you’d be 100% right. But you’d also be missing my point.
There is a huge difference between denying the unpleasant parts of life and making them far more important than they need to be.
We have to make a living. We have to pay taxes. We sometimes have to deal with very unpleasant situations that we couldn’t possibly have predicted. Obviously. That’s just life. But just because those things are true, we don’t have to put them first.
If the consequences of putting your worries and anxieties first meant that they actually got dealt with, I’d say fair enough. Equally, if the consequences of putting enjoyment first meant that your life fell apart and you became a reckless, irresponsible monster, I’d say fair enough.
In truth, I have found the EXACT opposite to be true.
When I make my problems and my worries a priority, they tend to stick around. They get bigger and bigger, harder and harder to deal with, and take up more and more of my energy. And they never, ever get sorted. Forget about enjoying life in this state – there are just far too many more important things to think about first!
But when I make doing what I enjoy a priority, well, suddenly all those unpleasant facts of life lose their power over me. There don’t seem to be as many problems to begin with, and the ones that there are don’t seem too difficult to solve. Life itself seems lighter and more beautiful. I’m not in denial of the darker parts, they just don’t cripple me like they once did.
To put it another way, problems beget more problems; enjoyment begets more enjoyment.
Try it out
Please don’t take my word for this, or on anything I tell you. Try it out for yourself. Rack your brains – what’s something you enjoy doing, not for the results it gives you, but in and of itself? Set aside an hour today and just do that thing.
Put things in their proper place. Stop pretending that the bills, the obligations, the things that need sorting out, are more important than they really are. Stop using them as an excuse not to enjoy life.
It’s not irresponsible. It’s not reckless. It’s the right way to live.