When I was a young boy I was at a war memorial with my father, who had served during wartime. It was November 11th and in Canada we call it Remembrance Day. I asked my father if I should spend the day being sad for all the soldiers who didn’t come back. My Dad understood what I was saying, but his response was typical of my Dad. He’ll always find the best in everything.
He told me that those boys didn’t get a chance to live out their lives because they sacrificed theirs so that we could have ours. It would be a disservice to them if they sacrificed their lives and then we wasted ours in misery. For their death to have meaning our lives had to have meaning. So we should be joyful, and we should spread that joy by helping others.
Too many of us have been taught to think of our own joy as something we should squeeze into gaps in our responsibility. What is the point of life then? If there isn’t a lot of fun, then life isn’t anything to write home about. Existence is not life. Why have intelligence and free will if we’re going to use it to choose responsibility and obligation and no joy and laughter?
How often do you laugh hard? And is that at a TV show, or with other actual human beings? Do you act like a happy human being, or is the verb of your life to make the choices that sad human beings make? If people invite you out, do you make excuses and say no? When someone compliments you, do you tell them they’re mistaken? Do you look at your week as a bunch of slots for potential fun? Or do you see it as a life of quiet desperation, where you’re just hoping a meteor of happiness will serendipitously intersect it?
If you’re waiting for life to get better because you’ve taken care of all of your responsibilities, then you’ve misunderstood how all of this works. Life gets better when that becomes a priority. Life becomes better when you stop worrying about the downsides of choice and instead you just start making choices. Because thinking about them is to spend your life thinking. Taking action is for your life to have motion, and activity, and accomplishment.
I’m not suggesting that you need to be irresponsible in your dealings with your employer, friends, family or strangers. I’m simply suggesting that you should also have some responsibility for your own life. It’s a much shorter life than you realise. Don’t waste it thinking someone hands you a gift of a joyful 40 years because you were so good and proper in the first 40. It doesn’t work that way. Your job is to collect joy along the way. You’re not supposed to live to work, you’re supposed to work to live. Because if you’ve lost track of the joys of living, then you’ve also lost track of the reasons for working.
Stop feeling guilty when you have fun. Stop criticising yourself for taking some time out of your short existence to laugh, or play, or have sex. It literally is your life. And you are spending it through action. The activity of your life is both your payment and reward. So stop thinking about what’s right or appropriate or smart or impressive, and start doing things that are fun. You’ll be surprised at how some fun can really help you with things like patience, calmness, listening and understanding. Because life isn’t a case where if you’re good you’ll be happy. It’s a one where if you are happy you will be good.
It’s your life. It’s short. Enjoy it. Start now.
Scott McPherson is a writer, mindfulness instructor, coach and communications facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organisations around the world.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.