Enjoying the Journey

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Sooner or later we must realize there is no one place to arrive at once and for all.  The true joy of life is the trip, the dream constantly outdistances us  Robert Hastings

Many of us live with a fantasy.  We imagine one day it will all come to together and on that magical day we will be happy.  On that wonderful day we will at last have figured it all out and will achieve a state of enlightenment.  We will possess the secret of happiness and we will, from that moment on, live happily ever after.

Robert Hastings comes to give us a slap in the face to wake us up from our dreaming and face the truth, that the journey we’re on today must be the source of our happiness.  It will never be tomorrow, if it is not today.

Ironically, I believe that the prerequisite for enjoying the journey today is to acknowledge the fact that much of today’s journey will actually not be enjoyable or much fun. I  promise you that once you embrace this fact, you will then have a real shot at being happy and enjoying the journey.  Why is this true?

Today, there are some people who are obsessed with being happy and finding the ultimate formula for how to be happy.  As a result they put tremendous pressure on themselves to be happy.  They obsess about how they are feeling and feel panicked when they don’t feel happy.  They live with an unrealistic expectation that they should be happy all they time and if they are not, they conclude something must be wrong with them.  What makes things worse is that there are so many “happiness gurus” who claim they have discovered how to be happy all the time.  When these happiness seekers try these formulas and fail, they may feel deficient or beat themeselves up.  The truth is that having an expectation that the journey should be fun all the time is a sure formula for misery!

Let’s look at a slice of a typical day of your average person.  Mom, having been up half the night with a nursing baby is sleep deprived, wakes up feeling exhausted and cranky.  With much effort, she pulls her self out of bed to get her other children up for school.  Her husband is in no better shape, feeling pressured to help his wife get the kids ready for school and get to work on time which he has not been doing lately, leaving him feeling worried about his job security which only makes his existing financial pressures worse. . Getting the two kids dressed and fed is stressful and when the youngest refuses to eat, mom looking at the clock says, “Too bad, so you’ll be hungry.  We have to get to school,” which leaves her feeling guilty-ridden.  It’s only 8:00 am and today’s journey has just begun!  It sure doesn’t look like these two are having much fun, does it?

Life for the most part actually isn’t so enjoyable.  On an given day, the average person  will experience a range of unpleasant feelings such as anger, anxiety, disappointment, confusion, shame, guilt, fear, pressure, guilt, uncertainty, sadness, boredom, etc.  Are your days much different?

This is why I suggest that the key to enjoying life is to first be realistic and acknowledge the truth that life isn’t much fun most of the time.  Of course, there are some who will suggest that what I’m describing are people who just aren’t very evolved and if they were,  they would find the joy in all these moments.  I believe this is true but the average person, including myself, is not living on such a level and so I’m offering a more practical approach.

Now let’s see how this works in practice.  When we stop expecting to be happy all the time and accept that the journey of life isn’t always so enjoyable, something wonderful happens.  We stop obsessing and begin to relax.  And when we relax we begin to enjoy more of the moments on the journey that are pleasurable.

Try this exercise.  As you go through your day, acknowledge the truth about how you are really feeling.  If you are feeling stressed, say to yourself, “I am feeling stressed and I’m not having a good time right now.”  The important thing to do is not to panic and pressure yourself to try to change the way you feel.  Simply accept it and don’t fight it.  If someone cuts you off on the highway and you get angry, say to yourself, “I am really annoyed.  I want to shoot this guy and I’m not having a good time right now.”.  If you are honest with yourself, you will be saying this often throughout your day. Just remind yourself that it’s ok to feel this way and there’s nothing wrong with you.

Ironically, when we acknowledge the truth, rather than creating a negative mind set, it mentally primes us to be more open to and aware of the good moments.   For example, the mom I mentioned earlier, may while driving carpool notice the smile on her son’s face, embrace that moment and say, “This is good.”  As she walks her children to school, she might appreciate the pleasure of having hands to hold her children’s hands, feel thankful and say, “This is good.”   I call these good moments “pleasure bursts.”  I believe that all it takes is ten pleasure bursts a day to feel happy even if the rest of the day you’re not having a good time.  It actually doesn’t take a lot of good individual moments to feel life is good and to enjoy the journey.  A little light dispels much darkness.

So stop looking for perfection and the perfect life.  Stop waiting for the ultimate breakthrough and start being realistic about life and its difficulties.  And above all, start being conscious of the good moments you do have daily, embrace them, and practice saying, “This is good.”