On a recent car ride, our family noticed a big shaggy dog hanging halfway out the window of the car driving next to us. Everything about this dog represented complete and utter enjoyment. With absolute abandon, our furry friend let his tongue hang out, his nose sniffed the air rushing past him, and his eyes took in the people walking on the sidewalks nearby. We remarked that this dog seemed to be enjoying life with the type of enthusiasm that we often yearn for. Setting aside the obvious differences between dogs and humans, we would do well to remember the mantra embodied in a dog enjoying a car ride without a care in the world: let us endure less and enjoy more of our daily lives.
Living in the Midwest, with its distinct four seasons, I realize that one of the reasons I fail to enjoy autumn is because I spend too much time anticipating winter, my least favorite season. This anticipation blocks my view of the stunning fall colors and clouds over even the brightest blue skies. Negative anticipation directs my attention away from the beauty of autumn and turns my focus on the possibility of a long dreary winter ahead. This negative anticipation prevails in so many areas of our lives: maybe my family member will react badly if I express my feelings honestly, maybe I will not complete this job requirement on time, maybe the sun will be hidden by clouds for 3 months straight. However, thoughts such as these prevent us from enjoying the blessings right in front of us, blessings which are sometimes only available for a limited amount of time.
Those who truly enjoy life understand the value of time spent with others and prioritize experiences over material possessions. We can learn a lot from children in this respect, since they routinely spend their days laughing, playing, and spending little to no money at all. When my children were younger, we invited a few of their friends over on a beautiful summer day. After some time spent playing at the park, I decided we would venture to the dollar store. I told them they could each pick out one thing to buy. Since a trip to the dollar store was a new experience for them, the kids continually asked me how much the items were and I kept reminding them that everything cost one dollar. It became comical at a certain point, trying to reassure them that no matter the item they picked, the cost was the same. I had six youngsters in tow, and they all walked out with a new item to play with, costing me a grand total of six dollars. They completely enjoyed browsing through the store, knowing they had the pick of any item and laughing with their friends as they conspired to choose six toys that would go well together. Money spent was irrelevant; time together and connection with others provided the lasting enjoyment.
It often feels that we endure, rather than enjoy, times of adjustment in our lives. I find this to be true when “back to school” time rolls around in our household. Whether it be finding the correct multipack of crayons for kindergarten or the right extra-long sheets for the college dorm beds, the temptation always exists to focus more on potentially stressful little things than the excitement of big new opportunities. In the stress of transition and demand for details, more than once I have uttered the sentiment, “I just hope I get through it this time”. Going back to school, starting a new job, moving to a new location, and other times of transition involve plenty to worry about. They also provide the best chances for us to make new connections, challenge ourselves in unique ways, and contribute our talents to the world around us. Allotting more mental energy to excitement rather than fear helps us enjoy transitions and discover some of the best parts of ourselves.
Perspective and flexibility are important tools to help us endure less and enjoy more. During our most recent out of state college drop-off, we congratulated ourselves on how efficient we have become in the moving process; we were old pros since we had three years of mistakes and learning behind us. Everything went very smoothly, until the final five minutes of our entire experience, when we walked out of our relatives’ house and our daughter climbed into the car she would be driving this year. As we prepared to drive our van back home, we realized our daughter’s car did not start. Suddenly, it was time to employ enough flexibility to drive her an hour out of our way to campus and enough perspective to realize how fortunate we were that everything else had worked out until this point. We could either endure an unexpected and time-consuming delay or we could enjoy bonus time with our daughter and deposit her safely on campus.
Many days, we wake up in anticipation of a day filled with obligations and responsibilities. Somewhere, hidden among our work tasks and appointments and errands, we can carve out some time for things that bring us complete and utter joy. Find your times to enjoy moments the way that dog enjoyed breathing in fresh air through the open car window on a beautiful sunny day. Those moments of joy give us something to look forward to every day and something to be grateful for every night.
Laura B. joined Empathia in 2000 as an EAP Counselor. Laura has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Northwestern University and a master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, with a concentration in marriage and family therapy. Prior to joining Empathia, she worked as a case manager with chronically mentally ill adults readjusting to life in the community. Laura enjoys reading, attending kids’ activities and spending time with family.