If you have been looking for permission to take time off and indulge in the things that make you happy, this is the article for you.
In my time at The Daily Nebraskan, I have written about self-discipline, exercise and taking full advantage of available college classes. I wrote about advice that I want to take myself, and I still stand by what I said in those articles. However, all that emphasis on hard work and dedication would be incomplete without also mentioning the motivation behind them, which is simply to live the best life possible.
Enjoying the time you have is a necessary part of that optimal life. This is not to say that you should stop working altogether or avoid unpleasant experiences at all costs, but it should give you some perspective on what you are doing and why. Take time to enjoy yourself even as you work to make the future better.
Doing difficult things is not a good end in itself. Rather, the point of working hard at anything is for you and others to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
There is a wide variety of rewards for diligent effort. We work in hopes to get richer, more secure or to support people that rely on us. However, all of these things are worth pursuing for the same reason: They make people feel better than they otherwise would.
This may seem like a shallow objective, but there is no requirement that the good feeling be some surface-level pleasure. To keep it as general as possible, the positive side of what we experience in life can simply be called well-being. This includes the satisfaction of deep bonds with loved ones as well as the momentary bliss of eating ice cream.
Well-being should always be the goal of taking on any negative experience. Your experience is not the only one that matters, of course; often we work to support the people we care about. But it should be self-evident that suffering for suffering’s sake is useless. Waking up for an 8 a.m. class is a good idea, not because it is painful at the moment, but because you can gain significant well-being by passing the class and graduating.
Now, by that logic, you may think that the best way to act in the present is to work as hard and often as you can in order to maximize the well-being payoff in the future. I encourage you to dedicate yourself to some productive effort — and even to push yourself sometimes — but if you burn yourself out, then all that effort is a waste of time.
Burnout is caused by extended periods of stress. It is characterized by cynicism and depression that feels like it cannot be fixed, and it can lead to food, alcohol and drug abuse. So not only does it lead to negative feelings, but it can interfere with your ability to be productive going forward.
Therefore, trying to cram as much work as possible into every day can actually be counterproductive. If possible, try to take a break once in a while just to enjoy some of your favorite things. If your current season of life makes it impossible to take significant time off, try and look for little things that you like throughout your day, and keep the goal of caring for yourself and others in mind.
Another thing to remember is that the future is never guaranteed. Don’t stake your entire present on it.
As philosopher and neuroscientist Sam Harris points out, “As a matter of conscious experience, the reality of your life is always now.” We have memories of the past and guesses about the future, but we are only ever aware of these as thoughts in the present moment.
So, if you are tempted to delay gratification totally and indefinitely, it might do you some good to remember that the future you are working for is, in some sense, not even real.
Again, this is not to say that you should never prepare for the future, but there will always be a future to prepare for, so will you always delay your happiness? You may think you can’t afford to find deep satisfaction right now, but in reality, you can’t afford not to.
Struggle and tragedy are unavoidable parts of life; they come automatically. Well-being takes more direct effort – especially deep, long-lasting well-being.
Don’t leave all the good parts of life to your future self. Think about what makes life worth living for you, and hold on to those things. See if you can’t enjoy the never-ending struggle for survival.
Will Cook is a junior philosophy and journalism double major. Reach him at email@example.com.