Enjoy yourself – it’s later than you think

Enjoy yourself – it’s later than you think. Does that sound like a frivolous statement or the title of a whimsical song? Not to Socrates (BC 469 – 399), for that was one of his teachings. Although life was shorter then, his words are equally valid today. He wasn’t suggesting that we should party all day or avoid pain and seek pleasure. Rather, he was teaching us to fill our lives with joy and to share happiness with others.

Imagine for a moment that you are in the Bahamas. It’s a glorious day. As you walk down the beach, you feel the hot sand crunch under the soles of your bare feet. You step up to the ocean. It laps your feet, gently swirling around your ankles. The sounds of laughing children and splashing waves surround you. The smell of the salt spray allures you deeper into the white foam. You leap in and taste the ocean that you have now become a part of. You are experiencing joy.

The value of a vacation is that it becomes easier to let go of our past regrets and future concerns and concentrate on the present. When we do so, we are leaping into the ocean of life, which isn’t made of saltwater, but of joy. We don’t have to travel to find happiness, for it is wherever we are, if we only allow ourselves to experience the present moment. The American Golfer, Ben Hogan, put it this way, “As you walk down the fairway of life you must smell the roses, for you only get to play one round.”

Because joy, bliss, exuberance, ecstasy, rapture, and euphoria are intense feelings, we sometimes mistakenly believe that extreme circumstances are necessary to experience them. Not so. We don’t have to win the lottery to know ecstasy. It is the endless parade of small pleasures that creates joy. In Benjamin Franklin’s words, “Human felicity is produced not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen as by little advantages that occur every day.”

For us to experience the truth of Ben Franklin’s words, we have to be AWARE of all of life’s small pleasures. After all, we can’t smell the roses when we’re asleep. The purpose of life is to experience it. And to experience it is to experience joy. When we have joy, we have all. Remember, each moment of life is a gift. If we fail to experience this moment, we will never relive it, not even in our memory. Do we really want to let a day go by without laughing, singing, whistling, humming, or smiling?

Is it warm or cold where you are? How do you know? We cannot know one without experiencing the other. Unless we experience pain, sorrow, and suffering, we cannot know joy. When we are realize that misery is the flip side of happiness, we can continue to experience joy in our darkest moments. For our suffering forecasts the happiness we will soon experience. Don’t we enjoy winter for the contrast it provides and for its promise of spring?

If we appreciate the little that we have, we will enjoy much. It doesn’t make sense to chase after more and more. For those who endlessly seek to accumulate things will soon discover they have more possessions than they do joy. Instead of buying more of what we don’t need, it would be far better to enjoy what we already have. Joy, then, is also doing without some of what we think we want. Overindulging in possessions and pleasure reduces our happiness and numbs our joy. To be satiated is to be bloated. To do without some of what we want is to be in control, have self-discipline, and appreciate what we have.

Another mistake we make is to try to cling to, or hold on to, what brings us joy. Yet nothing remains the same; life is in flux. Here today, gone tomorrow. My computer may crash, loved ones may die, possessions may be stolen, and my health may fade. Joy comes only to those who don’t hold on, or as John Berry wrote, ” The bird of paradise alights only upon the hand that does not grasp.” To be ever aware of the fleeting nature of life offers two benefits. First, we will seize the moment, relish this instant, and enjoy the present. Second, when calamity strikes, we won’t be surprised; we’ll be able to shrug our shoulders and say, “That’s life.”

Isn’t it strange how the same set of circumstances is viewed so differently by various individuals? Some complain, “You can’t depend on anything in life. Life is full of uncertainty.” Yes, it is. But why is that bad? Actually, uncertainty is a major source of joy. Don’t the complainers like surprises? Don’t they embrace challenges? Don’t they enjoy solving puzzles? Sometimes opportunities for joy are staring us in the face; yet we remain blind to them.

The subtitle to the newspaper headline reads, “Tired Slovenian feels ‘only ABSOLUTE HAPPINESS.'” It refers to the 38-year-old ski instructor, Davo Karnicar of Jezersko, Slovenia, who, on October 7, 2000, became the world’s first person to ski down Mt. Everest. Can you imagine the joy he experienced? He not only conquered Mt. Everest, but he conquered fear and overcame brutal obstacles. We are not all skiers. Yet, like Davo, we are all adventurers. Whether we embark on an adventure or not, is our choice.

The great news is there is no need to travel to distant Nepal for our adventure. We can experience it wherever we are. How? Begin by making a list of ten things you are afraid of, but would like to do. Next, begin your adventure by doing the first item on your “Afraid-to-Do” list. After completing it, cross it off the list and add another item to the end of the list. As you do so, you will replace fear with joy, failure with victory, and self-limitation with liberation. You will lead an adventurous life! Isn’t that what we were meant to do? British Poet Robert Browning (1812-1889) thought so, for he wrote, “Oh the wild joys of living! The leaping from rock to rock … the cool silver shock of the plunge in a pool’s living waters.”

I interrupted the writing of this article to drop into the local coffee shop. After arriving at the front of the line, Cathy said, “Do you want the usual?” She repeated it in a louder voice, “DO YOU WANT THE USUAL?”

I read the story of the skier, Davo Karnicar, while I was waiting in line at the coffee shop and it must have still been on my mind. Apologizing, I said, “Sorry about that. Yes, I’ll take the usual.”

She immediately quipped, “Why didn’t you hear me? Were you still asleep?”

“No,” I answered, “not asleep, just entranced by your flawless beauty.”

Cathy was so pleased by what I said that she stamped my coffee card twice. As I left, I reflected how every encounter we have is an opportunity to experience and share joy. Wouldn’t you agree? May your joys be as deep as the ocean, your sorrows as light as its foam.