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.