Success and Enjoyment: Not Incompatible

It’s easy to be stressed and anxious these days. For those of you who didn’t take my advice to turn off the TV news, it’s probably even more difficult to unwind. Though it seems like it would be easier to live in the moment here in a resort, my experience has shown that it’s not quite as simple as it sounds. Even at the beach, surrounded by all the wonderful things so unique to coastal living, stress management skills have to be developed and maintained.

Taking the time to enjoy life’s little pleasures is one of the most important aspects of managing the demands of everyday life. Constantly focusing on things you can’t immediately control increases stress and makes you more susceptible 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 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 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 pleasures along the way. After all, the purpose of responsible planning is to make intelligent decisions so that you can be happy!

Without a healthy balance between these two outlooks, the resulting frustration can take one of two forms. The first is the consequence of evading responsibility for thoughtfully planning out your life. Without 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 the lack of forethought begin to mount up, so will the feelings of unhappiness and frustration.

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

A big impediment to living in the moment is what mental health professionals 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 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 keeps 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 heck I did wrong! I should figure it out and correct it.”

Notice that the healthy response presupposes no doom or catastrophe. Indeed, 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 and avoiding mistakes (at all costs) can contribute to self-esteem and happiness. But let’s face it: That’s more than a full-time job! We need to 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: music, your pets, 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’ve chosen in this beautiful place pass you by.

Now it’s easy to agree with me in principle, and 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 are all accountable for our own contentment, so allow yourself to delight in the 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 forfeit the precious minutes, seconds and hours.