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December 2018

Post image for How to Enjoy Life

I don’t know about you, but whenever I’m a guest at a holiday get-together, once dinner is over and we begin to appreciate the scale of the impending cleanup, I’m always relieved to be given a clear job to do: collect all the wine glasses, wipe down the table, corral the recyclables.

Even scrubbing a stubborn roasting pan is a welcome assignment, at least partly because it relieves you from the alternative, which is to sit there feeling unhelpful while your host does everything. But even aside from that, there’s a certain pleasure to be found in the doing of a task, if you’re not determined to hate it.

Yet in other contexts, similarly basic tasks can seem annoying and unpleasant. Sometimes, out of protest, I leave a stack of stray books on the bottom stair for three days, or a basket of laundered socks unfolded until my sock drawer runs low.

Why not take the same pleasure in those little jobs? It’s all context I suppose—if life’s menial tasks could somehow all be part of a dinner party cleanup effort, every day would be a chain of small pleasures.

The habit of taking even mild pleasure in such tasks would be life-changing, because most of what we do during a typical day isn’t done for enjoyment’s sake: laundry, exercise, office work, dishes, dusting. We do these things because they make life better in some less immediate sense; they’re rewarding, but not necessarily as you do them.

How we spend our days is how we spend our lives, as the adage goes, and that means the majority of our lives are spent doing not-especially-enjoyable maintenance work (cleaning, earning, fixing, organizing) in order to support  the especially-enjoyable stuff (leisure time, meals, get-togethers, creative endeavors and personal projects) we do with the remaining minority of our time.

We all want to enjoy life, and not just a fraction of it. But if you Google “How to enjoy life,” most of the images you’ll see are symbols of those exceptional, peak-enjoyment activities: hammocks, beaches, candlelit dinners, and scenic hikes.

Clearly the vision we have of enjoying life has nothing to do with the way we actually spend most of it: doing necessary but unremarkable things in front of desks, stoves, laundry baskets, sinks, and grocery store shelves. Sometimes this pile of necessary but unremarkable activities seems so great that there’s little time left for the enjoyment-and-relaxation type activities.  Read More

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