Friday, October 8, 2010

Enjoy It While It Lasts

Ive been thinking about this post for a while now, but I wasnt quite sure how to phrase it. In essence, life is short: the time we spend as humans is fleeting. Furthermore, life is hard. If not hard, well its certainly not easy. Theres no win button to fall back on. You just have to grind it out. And often, life really does feel like a grind.

I was talking to a friend and poker colleague the other night about life, and this is the kind of guy who does pretty well for himself. "Why cant I just have a good run of cards forever? Why do I always have to deal with suckouts and bad beats? Why do I have to fill out all this paperwork just to rent an apartment? Why does my phone/computer/car die every 18 months? Why doesnt this girl call me back? Why do I have to deal with idiots everyday of my life? Why is my apartment always a mess? Why arent I living in Vegas?"

In my view, as I told it to him, its two things really. First and foremost, the grass is always greener on the other side. No matter how well you do at your job, no matter how much money you make or how much personal success you achieve, you are always going to want more. Its very difficult to just appreciate what you do have, and very easy to appreciate what you dont have. Many people go through their entire lives this way, looking at the glass half full, looking at the green grass on the other side of the fence. Its easy to do that, and its easy to internalize all that negativity because theres a constant, neverending stream of bullshit you have to deal with on a day to day basis.

This is my second point: the bullshit in life never ends. You are always going to have to deal with something that for whatever reason, you would rather not have to deal with. There is always something. Some crap you have to do or some person you have to see, some place or event you have to goto and when its finally done, you realize there's something else you have to handle. I asked my Dad about it. He told me that while there was a great reduction in bullshit once you retire, it still never ends. So the first thing you have to realize and fully accept is that no, it never ends. You are going to be dealing with annoying things, minor and major ones, for the rest of your life. Life, in essence, is a series of annoyances punctuated by the occasional spell of pure happiness.

Which brings me to my main point: if you constantly focus on the negative aspects of life, the day to day bullshit of our modern existence, its likely that you will start to feel annoyed, hassled, burdened, and unhappy. You must resist this with every single ounce of your being. Its rare that we find ourselves in moments of pure, unadulterated happiness, usually its some moderate gradation of "not totally pissed at the world." When those great moments in your life come, you have to treasure them. In between, try not to focus on the constant negative aspects, and instead on the more minor enjoyable ones. A good meal. A pleasant conversation. A great game or interesting book. It doesnt have to be much. Just enough to draw your focus away from the incessant mundanity of day to day life.

Ive been thinking about this blog post ever since Raphael Nadal won the US Open. It was such a great moment, and being a huge Nadal fan I was overjoyed that Nadal had finally won every major title in pro tennis. He was now entering a conversation for not just one of the best players of his era, but one of the best players of all time. More recently, I was moved watched the performance of Roy Halladay in the National League Division Series, where in his first post-season appearance after 320 regular season starts, he pitched a no hitter - only the second in MLB postseaon history. "Doc Holliday," as he's known around the big leagues, has been one of my favorite players since I saw him dominate the Yankees in 1998 or 1999 at the old Yankee Stadium in The Bronx. Currently hes considered the best pitcher in MLB, a title he has held for roughly 8 years. Watching Halladay throw the no hitter was like watching Picasso paint the Mona Lisa in front of 50,000 screaming fans. It was true artistry, a type of sublime beauty rarely seen in sports.

But what prompted me to finally make this post was when the Nobel Peace Prize was handed out yesterday to Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese dissident whose non-violent struggle to promote human rights in China earned him 11 years in state prison. This is a man who believes so completely in the concept of fundamental human freedoms that he was willing to sacrifice his life for it. His actions, and those of others like him such as the Dalai Lama, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Ghandi, among others, are the pillars upon which we advance our species out of the mudpit of humanity. Being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize is a triumphant victory for Mr. Xiaobo, the people of China, and all citizens of the world. Will China change its humanitarian ways? Will the United States cease to intiate military conflicts throughout the world? Will the Israelis and the Palestinians finally make a truce and declare peace? Probably not overnight, and possibly not anytime soon. However, moments like these can become a turning points in struggles which seem unwinnable. It all begins with an idea, and people who belive so deeply in it that they are willing to sacrifice themselves to achieve it.

Life is short. We are only here on earth for a little while before our molecules and atoms decide to disippate back into the void. What should we do with our time here? When the tasks at hand seem annoying or overwhelming how does one proceed? Why cant we all just be happy all the time? These arent simple questions and there are no easy answers. The short version is that you simply have to focus yourself on the positive aspects of life which make you and those around you happy. Work is a bitch, dealing with your family can be hard, theres never enough free time to do all the things you want to. It never ends. But you can mitigate the hardship, you can reduce the bullshit, by not focusing on it. Get past it as best you can, even though it might not always be pretty. But Im here to tell you all that its worth it. Those few moments in life when everything crystalizes, everything comes together, and all the negative stuff seems a million miles away, those moments are worth it. They are few and far between, and sometimes they might be more subtle than the examples I have given, but they are worth it. Life is short, life certainly isnt easy, but it has moments which make it all worth the effort. Make the most of it, and enjoy it while it lasts.


md said...

It's pretty easy to get caught up in concentrating on all of the things that need to be "fixed" in your life while missing a lot of what is right in front of you. I'm guilty of this on a regular basis.

umopapisdnpuaq said...

This TED Talk has some interesting thoughts relating to all this.

It looks at the synthesis of happiness and how peoples expectations of happiness based on future outcomes are pretty off the mark.

So rather than worry about how unhappy you will be if x, y, z happens you can just wait and 'not enjoy it while it lasts' which won't be that long.

Or afterwards your brain could synthesise happiness and find the positives from whatever happened - kind of an 'Every cloud has a silver lining' concept.

One of the experiments at 15:30 in gets people to make either a reversible choice or an irreversible choice. Surprising results.

On the whole I agree with the blog title though. You can have a bad time but if it ends with something nice that's what you will take away from it. So if you are having a bad time try and find that something nice to enjoy in there. In the moment.

uber crunch said...

Your post made for great Tuesday afternoon reading. Thanks. Very grateful for the numerous isles of contentment that I've visited with you over the years.

Mipam Thurman said...

This post makes me think of something Nietzsche referred to in at least one of his novels (which I will paraphrase) - life would not be possible without the capacity to forget things. We constantly let memories drift into our subconsciousness because there would just be too much crap otherwise.
My personal belief is that forgiveness is the most important priority when finding the the path to a happy life. Forgive the world for sucking, forgive your friends for being disappointing and always forgive your cat when it turns of the power on your computer just as you are about to make it through the most difficult part of a game.