You can be successful, and still enjoy life’s everyday pleasures

Does working or living at the beach make it easier to live in the moment? It seems like it should be easier, but my experience has shown that it’s not quite as simple as it sounds. Even here, surrounded by all the wonderful things that are so unique to coastal living, stress management skills have to be developed—and maintained.

Taking the time to enjoy little, everyday pleasures is one of the most important aspects of managing the demands of the workplace, family or school. Why? Because a constant focus on things you cannot immediately control increases stress; making you more vulnerable to problems such as depression and anxiety disorders.

Don’t misunderstand. Refusing to think ahead or plan for the future can create its own kind of stress. Imagine if you never saved for your retirement, or you didn’t carefully consider major life decisions, such as changing jobs or having a child. When the time finally came to deal with the consequences of your poorly made choices, your stress level would shoot sky-high. And, down the road, there could be a physical price to pay.

Allowing yourself to live in the moment, while still carefully and rationally managing the course of your life, grants you the ‘right’ to guiltlessly savor the little pleasures along the way. After all, the purpose of responsible planning is to make intelligent decisions so that you can be happy!

In the absence of a healthy balance between these two outlooks, the resulting frustration can take two forms. The first is the consequence of not accepting the personal responsibility to thoughtfully plan out your life. In the absence of this accountability to yourself, things will consistently go wrong. Complaints such as: ‘It’s just not my day!’ or ‘Everything happens to me!’ will become familiar phrases. As the emotional costs of your lack of forethought begin to mount up, so will your feelings of unhappiness and dissatisfaction.

The other type of discontent is still self-inflicted, but is the opposite extreme. It results from getting so caught up in everyday commitments and responsibilities, that you never stop to ‘smell the roses’—or the wonderful salty scent of the ocean, as the case may be. Life can rapidly become a series of sad, little regrets, characterized by an endless string of ‘what ifs.’

A big impediment to living in the moment is what psychologists sometimes call ‘irrational perfectionism.’ Irrational perfectionists expect wisdom and insight to come to them automatically, without any trial or error. They don’t fully appreciate or understand the value (and necessity) of thought and reason in bringing about sensible conclusions to everyday problems. When they are accurate in their assessment of a problem, they take it for granted that this is how it “should be.” But when they make an error, it feels like a disaster to them.

Ironically, this unrealistic attitude prevents them from ever approaching the perfection or excellence they so cherish, to say nothing of happiness. Their frustration over being imperfect causes them to feel as if life is futile and depressing. Contrast this with a healthy person who might say something like, “Oh, I wonder what the cause of my mistake was? I should find out and correct it.”

Notice that the healthy response presupposes no sense of doom or catastrophe. On the contrary, it implies a sense of confidence in one’s ability to think and move forward. A healthy person doesn’t resent mistakes; instead, he or she values the power of reason and logic to solve problems, and engages them with conviction.

Always being competent, while avoiding mistakes at all costs, can clearly contribute to self-esteem and happiness. But, let’s face it: That’s often more than a full-time job. We need to stop and take time out for emotional refueling. Like a car without gas, a person without emotional refueling will get nowhere.

How do you emotionally refuel? Take some time to enjoy what you love: books, music, sports, recreation, whatever. Are you here at the beach on vacation? Then enjoy everything you came here to experience. Do you live here because you like the small-town atmosphere and the allure of the ocean? Then enjoy it every single day! Even an hour will do. Don’t let the life you have chosen in this beautiful place pass you by.

Now, it’s easy to agree with me in principle, but then go out and make excuses to not follow these suggestions. But remember: Commitments and responsibilities, by definition, don’t have to keep you from enjoying every single day, complete with its ups and downs. We all bear the responsibility for our own joy and contentment by delighting in the little pleasures that living in the moment can bring.

Plan and think about tomorrow, next month, or next year? Absolutely! But, in the process, don’t sacrifice your precious minutes, seconds and hours.