For the better part of my life, I did the things that were necessary. I didn’t really evaluate what I did against the metrics of fun or enjoyment. In fact, if my peers would complain that a task was boring and they had problem with their motivation, I couldn’t really relate to that. I mean, so what? If it needs to get done, just do it.
I enjoyed and took pride in a job well done. If something needed to be done in order to get me towards reaching my goal, I did it. If somebody expected something from me, or I had committed to do it, I did it. Come rain, come shine, I did it.
This had the unfortunate consequence of turning me into a kind of missile with a locked target – I ploughed through something I had committed or promised to do, even if circumstances around me told me that the target was irrelevant and I should change direction.
It enabled me to drive myself completely into the ground.
Towards the end, everything I did had to be “useful” in some kind of way. Every bit, every second of my day was optimised, planned and utilised. If it happened to be fun too, well that was just a coincidence and lucky bonus.
During my recovery period, I listened to the book “The art of enjoying life and still get things done” by Olof Rölander, who is a Swedish mental trainer (the book is unfortunately not translated to English yet). Chapter by chapter, he goes through different situations in life and how to really savour each moment in them.
- How to enjoy being alone
- How to enjoy being together with someone
- How to enjoy eating
- How to enjoy walking
- How to enjoy working
- How to enjoy not working
And the overall message of the book really hit me over the head with a huge realisation.
Enjoying life has a lot to do with being present in the moment. Not rushing towards the next thing, but taking the time to really be where you are. It also has to do with anticipation, having or creating things to look forwards to. And it often involves your senses: smell, touch, taste, sound. Seeing and appreciating beauty – whatever that means to you.
But a key factor is allowing yourself to do it. Allowing yourself to enjoy what you do, and allowing yourself to do things that you enjoy.
Give yourself Permission to enjoy life
I had to back off and give myself permission to do “useless” things, without guilt about “wasting” an afternoon when I could have been “productive”. Perhaps even decide to – gasp – not pre-plan everything!
I really sucked at this at the beginning. My internal fun-o-meter was horribly rusty. And in periods when I was depressed, things that I used to enjoy were no longer enjoyable. Nothing was fun.
I felt very lost.
Above all, I was terrible at listening to what I really wanted deep inside. I also had to deal with a lack of self-love.
Why give myself permission to have fun if I didn’t like myself very much? I didn’t see myself worthy of enjoyment.
(This didn’t magically get resolved by itself by the way. I received external help realising this as well as dealing with it, for which I am very grateful.)
As I started to flex my completely unused enjoyment muscles, things began to change. Life began to become less and less grey and started having colours again.
The mindfulness exercises I got at the rehab centre started getting double benefits. It was not only about calming down and becoming less stressed, it was also about learning to enjoy the moment. As it turns out, these two are actually the same thing.
To fully savour a moment, you cannot by definition rush past it and the body and mind have to be in a relaxed state.
This has turned into my canary in the coal mine. If I don’t feel like I’m enjoying myself for some period of time, it’s likely that I need to de-stress and unplug. We all have a bad day sometimes. But if I have several bad days in a row without apparent reason, or a full week that’s completely off, I know I need to back off and focus on self-care for a while.
For my everyday life today, I love trying to find new ways of enjoying the little things. Making my favourite cup of tea. Watching the sun rise while getting to work in the winter. Going to bed late because I can. Going to bed early because I can.
For the inevitable things that I still find less enjoyable, I want to share with you a question that I got from Jess Lively. Jess focuses a lot on getting to the best emotional state that you can before taking action.
When I used to just ignore any internal grumble and push on anyway, I now try to change the circumstances around it. I have begun to evaluate my life and the things I do based on the enjoyment they give me. And if I’m facing something less enjoyable that still needs to get done, I ask:
“What is the most fun way I can think of doing this right now?”
Or for short:
“How can I make this more fun?”
I invite you to use enjoyment as a metric when choosing what to do. And consider letting it guide you as far as possible. Seeking out enjoyment and injecting it wherever you can. You still need to do whatever you need to do. Why not turn it into something you can enjoy?
It starts with baby steps, and it also works wonders on things that are just mildly enjoyable. Everything benefits from a bit of fun-boost.
Can you turn something mildly enjoyable to something to really look forward to?
How can you make tomorrow more fun?