Can everyday life be joyful?

I was taught as a child that I could only relax when all my work was done for the day.

I was taught by example that everyday life is full of unwanted chores that you put off as long as possible until you can no longer ignore them.

I learned that it was impossible to feel good so long as these chores awaited you; and yet they were endless.

On my own I concluded that there was no joy in this kind of life. But at the same time I accepted this “daily grind” as reality, something that had to be escaped or overcome.

This is my resistance to everyday joy

In order to find joy in everyday life I must let go of these beliefs. Yet when I do, I face the underlying thought that these chores must get done, and by refusing to shoulder the burden I am being lazy, selfish, and inflicting harm on others.

If joy comes, I can’t accept it unless all my “work” is done. And my work will never be done – it restarts each day and some of it carries over.

So joy is simply not compatible with everyday life, unless my circumstances change somehow.

First change your thoughts

I’ve been working for two years at learning to feel better, so I know already that changing my thoughts is more powerful than trying to change my circumstances.

So what thoughts can I change to feel better and let go of my resistance?

I’ve already shown myself twice before that supposed burdens can be transformed if I look instead for what I want, what I appreciate.

For example, instead of thinking that the dishes have to get done and no one else is going to do them, I started to think about how much I love a clean and tidy kitchen. If I then choose to clean, it’s for the sake of something I love and appreciate, rather than a burden I must bear or else be labelled lazy, selfish and somehow morally deficient.

Another recent example was getting my 1yo daughter to sleep. For a year I could only think of it as something necessary, regardless of how difficult or burdensome it might be. I was the only one who could rock her to sleep, so it was up to me to shoulder that burden or else be totally irresponsible, selfish, and a bad parent.

What changed was that I found a thought that felt good: I’d love for her to learn to soothe herself to sleep. I was able to set aside my resistance for the sake of this positive goal, and help her learn to soothe herself.

Extrapolating to everyday life

The stuff of everyday life can be transformed if I allow myself to find positive thoughts instead of old patterns that feel burdensome and self-accusatory.

Starting at the beginning of the day, my morning routine can be because I love getting up early, feeling clean and refreshed, and enjoying my coffee, rather than the burden of being up early enough to get everything done.

I can enjoy my kids’ company early in the morning, and get my son ready for school because I want him to feel secure and safe and cared for, and to learn by example how to care for himself.

I can enjoy the walk to school because it’s lovely to be outside for some exercise with my kids, stretch our legs and get some fresh morning air.

I can enjoy taking my son to school because I want him to enjoy learning and interacting with others and working out his own preferences in life.

I can come home and enjoy relaxing in my home with my wife and daughter. I can write blog posts that inspire me and work on articles that feel good. I can do research into things that interest me and work out my own preferences and where I’d like to go next.

I can tidy the house – if I want to – because I love having a clean and tidy home. It’s not a burden that must be shouldered, it’s not something for which I am judged and criticised. I love the feeling of a clean and tidy home, but it’s okay for it to not be clean and tidy. And it’s okay to let my wife tidy if she wants to.

I can plan dinner because I love our evening meal together. I love cooking for my wife and kids. I love their enjoyment of my food. But it’s also okay to let my wife cook if she feels like it. And its okay to get take-out occasionally too.

I can pick up my son after school because I love being there for him, to hear about his day and how he feels, to say hello to some friends and bring him back home. But I can also let my wife do it sometimes if she wants to.

And the evening together can be a time when we enjoy watching things together, playing games together, reading stories together. It can be a time for fun and enjoyment rather than the last hours of burden and work.

Finally, we can put the kids to bed and get some sleep ourselves, not because we are worried about tomorrow’s burdens, but because sleep is so good for body, mind, and spirit. Sleep is true rest and it’s something we can love and enjoy for itself.

Letting go of old resistance

I can retell the story of my day and like a miracle transform endless burdens into continual joy.

I can gently remind myself as often as necessary that these daily activities are only as burdensome or routine as I make them out to be in my thoughts.

I live and work and think and play and sleep at home. I’m home so much, it’s time to let home be the place of joy and love and happiness I’ve always wanted it to be.

I want my everyday life to be joyful, and I think I know now how it can be.

Doing the dishes…happily?

I’ve struggled with doing the dishes and tidying the kitchen because on the one hand I don’t like it being messy and cluttered but on the other hand I’m tired of being the one cleaning it most of the time.

My wife and I have discussed it in the past but it feels like a stalemate.

I find myself again and again gritting my teeth and just doing it because “otherwise it won’t get done”.

So I decided to apply some of the Abraham-Hicks principles I’ve been working with and see if I can feel better about this situation.

It’s not the situation

It’s not the situation causing me to feel bad, it’s my thoughts about the situation.

I don’t need to know specifically which thoughts, and trying to hunt them down is usually counterproductive.

I already know I feel trapped because I want the dishes done, I’m tired of always doing them, and I don’t want to revisit a fruitless and aggravating discussion with my wife.

So what’s the opposite of all that? I want to feel free, I want to feel inspired and energised. I want to feel easy about doing the dishes.

My first thought is “they have to get done” and before I even get to the follow up I can tell this doesn’t feel good.

Do they really have to get done? Is that really how I want to approach these chores?

No wonder I feel stuck. The dishes are a burden even before I decide that I’m the one who should bear it.

Focus on the positive

After much practice at feeling better I had enough momentum to reconsider the situation and say “I love having a clean and tidy kitchen!”

Now it’s no longer a burden, it’s a statement of value. I love a clean and tidy kitchen.

And suddenly it flowed from there: I might not always have the energy to clean and tidy it. It might not always be entirely clean and tidy. But I still love and appreciate a clean and tidy kitchen.

And somehow with that positive statement I found I had the focus not just to clean some of the dishes…enough to make some room…but to clean all of the dishes. Three lots including some dirty pans from earlier in the week.

I cleaned them and dried them and put them away, not because they are a terrible burden under which I must suffer, but because I love and appreciate a clean and tidy kitchen.

Then I took the bin out and various bottles and cans that needed to be recycled. I kept going until the kitchen was as clean as it usually gets. I kept going until it mirrored the satisfaction and love that was guiding me.

Domestic insanity

I was definitely raised to see these kinds of chores as a burden, and carrying that attitude into my own home life is a shame.

All this time I could have been rewarding myself with love and appreciation for my clean kitchen, instead of forcing myself to endure the endless burden of dirty dishes that just have to get done somehow!

I can see now that when my wife did do the dishes I’d feel guilty that she was shouldering the “burden”.

It was a no win situation, but by finding a better-feeling way to think about it, it is totally transformed.

I like to think this is a microcosm of my Happiness work at large. Starting where I am, I’m finding that there have always been many things to feel good about, and many ways to feel good about them.

When can I start enjoying life?

I was taught as a child that if I just endured, shared in the burden, and patiently helped out, then we could all relax together when the struggles and the chores were complete.

I was taught that it was selfish to be happy and feel good and enjoy life when other people are suffering and burdened, especially when they are burdened for your sake.

I accepted and internalised these themes, and I even believed they were virtuous.

Messed up virtues

The first theme sounds a bit like delayed gratification, except that delayed gratification is still all about the enjoyment that awaits in the future, whereas I was taught to focus firmly on the burdens that exist in the present.

Not so much that it’s more satisfying to relax in a nice clean house; more that you should not relax when there are things that need to be done…and aren’t there always more things that need to be done?

The second theme sounds virtuous because it almost resembles compassion – sharing in the suffering and burden of others.

But it wasn’t compassion.

It wasn’t a happy person reaching out to alleviate another’s burden, it was the other way around: a suffering person resenting the happiness and ease of others, and enraged at the seeming injustice of it.

Learning to say no

So as I child I learned that a good person puts his own suffering ahead of his own enjoyment, and also puts others’ suffering ahead of his own enjoyment.

On my own I deduced intuitively that living this out to its logical conclusion would kill me. I would be utterly depleted by anyone and everyone who came to me with a burden or need because I couldn’t justify saying “no”.

Even when I finally learned to say no, it was still an act of self-preservation in defiance of these false virtues I’d accepted as true.

I felt guilty for saying no to people, because in my mind they were right to ask me to share their burdens, and I was wrong to refuse them.

Saying no was therefore an admission of fault and a moral failing.

Nothing is more important than happiness

I thought I was being virtuous by embracing suffering, and ignoble for shielding myself from others’ demands.

I thought it was selfish to put my happiness ahead of the happiness of others, and I had vague notions of hedonism and moral corruption looming as the only alternative to an austere self-denial.

So when I now say that nothing is more important than my happiness, I do so again and again against my own fading sense of messed-up virtue.

It is not wise to put suffering and burdens ahead of enjoyment, because even work and chores and daily routines can be joyful. But the only way to make them so is to put happiness first.

It is not compassionate to try to match other people’s negative feelings of struggle and burden, or to let others drag you down to their emotional level. True compassion understands that our own clarity, peace, and joy is the best antidote to others’ suffering.

Nothing is more important than my happiness.

So to answer the question posed in the title: the only time to start enjoying life is right now, immediately. If we aren’t learning to enjoy life right now, then we are not learning to enjoy it at all.

There is no excuse or obstacle to justify putting it off, and there is no future goal or attainment to make the learning of it easier.

That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned from the Abraham-Hicks material: no matter what your condition or circumstances, you can always find relief somewhere, even if it’s by going to sleep. The path of relief, the path of least resistance to relief, is the same path that leads to happiness.

It might take a while to get all the way from wherever you are in the midst of severe anxiety or depression or despair, but you can take comfort in the knowledge that feeling better bit-by-bit is the best thing, the only thing, you can do.