For what fraction of our lives are we enjoying ourselves? Is it 80%? 50%? 20%? Sadly, when we monitor our state of mind over the course of a day, we often find that the fraction is depressingly low. Even if we have very enviable lives, we may spend a rather small amount of time actually enjoying ourselves. In contrast, those with less fortunate lives may spend a high proportion of time enjoying themselves. What are the factors that stop us from enjoying ourselves, and how can we enjoy ourselves more?

There are two main factors that stop us from enjoying ourselves. The first is an active dislike of our current situation. This means that we find whatever we are doing to be distasteful, be it our regular day job, washing the dishes, or talking to an irritating colleague. If a high proportion of our days are spent doing activities that we actively dislike, then we have a problem. The solution may be to change jobs or trade responsibilities to make our days more enjoyable. In some cases, all that is needed is a simple change in attitude. For example, we may think that doing the dishes is a horrible task, but when we further reflect on it we realize that soaking our hands in warm water and gently scrubbing can actually be quite relaxing. Similarly, a boring job can be made more stimulating if we come up with creative challenges for ourselves to break the monotony.

The second factor that stops us from enjoying ourselves is when we pay very little attention to our current situation and instead become preoccupied in thought. For example, instead of enjoying a pleasant walk through the park on the way to work, we may be busy deciding what to cook for dinner, or how to spend the weekend, or whether to buy a new car. Instead of enjoying the present, we are plotting ways to enjoy the future. Clearly, this cycle is never-ending.

Hence, there are several things we can do to make our lives more enjoyable. First, we can stay with the present moment and thus enjoy that walk through the park, the coffee in the waiting room, or the gentle breeze on our face. Second, instead of actively disliking certain situations, we can learn to accept them and make the most of them. We can change our attitudes and realize that many inherently “bad” situations or tasks are actually quite relaxing. Third, we can look at our daily activities and discover what we do and don’t enjoy. Then, as much as possible, we can restructure and change our days to create a more satisfying life.

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