I took the summer off to have fun. I did take some classes—which is fun for me—and got a little housework done. But most of my focus was on spending time with my kids while they’re still at that awesome age where they want to hang out with me. Of course, with three young kids, “time off” is a relative term. The only thing I tried to stick with was my meditation practice (which was tricky while living out of a campervan for half of July). Throughout the fun days this summer, I learned a lot about all the sneaky ways we humans have for ruining a good time. With what little mindfulness I’ve managed to obtain over the years—and it ain’t much—I noticed throughout my summer of “fun” that I often fell into eight common traps that deplete energy and spoil a good time. The good news is that a little awareness goes a long way. And most (well, at least, some) of the time I was able to pull myself out of them. Do you ruin your best moments?
Eight Ways to Ruin a Good time:
- Dwell on the fun ending. This is the most common destroyer of a good time, yet it is so hard not to do. My wife and I finally took our honeymoon this summer. (Advice to new couples—wait until year ten for your honeymoon. It was a perfect week. I doubt we would have been as comfortable with each other—or had as much fun—week one of our marriage.) It was the ritziest vacation I had ever been on. We were spoiled by pristine beaches, fancy meals, and sunny days. Yet, during all this, it was so hard not to do the constant countdown (only four days left…three…two…one). Every time my mind would think about the end, my mood would drop. It’s a total waste of present-moment energy to focus your thoughts on the inevitable end. All things pass. Enjoy the moment.
- Imagine the disasters that await you or are happening without you. I dedicate this one to my beautiful wife, who has taught me more about having fun than anyone else. But she has this one little vacation tick. She waits until a perfect, calm, relaxing, wonderful moment to stop and say something like, “Gee, I hope the house isn’t getting broken into right now,” or, “I hope the kids are okay at the pool.” We all do this. It’s normal. Of course, lock your doors and buy your kids life jackets. But there has to be a letting go too. Worrying about things you cannot control at that moment is a waste of positive energy.
- Constantly obsess over how to make the fun funner. This is also easy to do. As I said above, my family took a long road trip in a campervan out west. Occasionally, I got a little caught up with planning. I worried that I did not pick the best campsite or suffered angst over choices of what attractions to stop at. My wife and I talked a lot about the camper van itself—would a pop-up camper be better or a pull-along or just a tent? Of course, you have to plan a trip. But these days, with the internet available everywhere, you can go a little nuts doing searches and checking reviews on every hotel, campsite, and tourist attraction (I think I spent more time researching where to go in Nebraska than we actually spent in Nebraska).
- Fail to enjoy the journey (or not stopping for ice cream): Driving across the country with my three kids, it was hard not to get into a “shut up and drive” attitude. It took a little mindfulness on my part to remember that crossing Nebraska for one thousand hours was part of the fun. We made sure to break for ice cream every day, even if it meant stopping at a gas station in the middle of nowhere. If you’re not enjoying the journey, then you’re missing out on a lot of fun. My wife and I have become so good at enjoying long layovers, I even look forward to them.
- Imagine how to make it last forever. I had a moment of bliss just a week ago. I was alone in a kayak on a tiny Minnesota lake way up north. I was in a little bay on a sunny morning. It was perfect. I stopped paddling and just sat in the pristine silence and melted. Then something funny happened. I noticed that my monkey-mind had started spinning. Neither the kayak I was in nor the cabin I had paddled from were mine. So my head started spinning out ideas of how I could get my own kayak and my own cabin; that way I could always have that moment. I had stopped enjoying the present and traded it for some fantasy in the future. I do this a lot. In a perfect moment, I wonder how I can keep it, which takes away from enjoying it. The first few days in the campervan with my kids, I dreamed of buying my own instead of enjoying the one we borrowed. Of course, by day fourteen in the van I never wanted to see one again.
- Compare the current fun to past times. This is a real moment killer. I have an acquaintance who spends most picnics and parties recounting how much better and more fun previous picnics and parties were. Of course, she’s usually comparing a family picnic with kids to a kegger when she was twenty-two. That’s like apples and oranges. But even year-to-year, it can be tempting to compare last year’s great weather at the cabin with this year’s chilly temp.
- Fail to enjoy the disasters. Ironically, some of the best, most memorable moments of a vacation are the disasters. My wife and I love to tell the story of the wilderness canoe trip where we got trapped in a flash lightning storm and had to dive for shelter on a rocky shore and hide under a tarp in driving rain for an hour while we and all our gear got soaked. We spent the next two days dripping wet. Minus the disaster, the trip would have not been the same. Taking a moment during the worst of a trip and reminding yourself that someday this will be the best story is often a good way to embrace disaster. Every trip is going to have flat tires, food poisoning, hand, foot, and mouth disease (yes, all three of my kids got it halfway through our road trip out west), and other such disasters. Half the fun is navigating the problems.
- Look forward to the fun too much. I saved this for last, even though it happens first. I’ve learned the hard way that over-anticipating future pleasures can become a kind of drug itself. It’s great too look forward to something, but if overdone, it can take you out of your current life, which, should also be full of wonderful moments. If your life is so horrible that you have to constantly dwell on a future pleasure, then something, perhaps, should change. Plus, over-anticipating a future event is a sure-fire way to find disappointment. The truth is, life follows us wherever we go. Every moment is as perfect as you allow it to be. Very often, people who can have a good time in their own kitchen after a long day of work, are the same people who have a good time on vacation. And people who can’t have fun in their own kitchen are the same people—and I saw many of them—who could be standing on a beach in Hawaii with the sun shining in the sky and they’d complain about the salty water.
In the end, these are all mind traps that take you out of the present moment and send you somewhere else. The cure, of course, is awareness. A little meditation goes a long way in watching how your mind works, where it gets stuck, what stories it likes to loop, what fantasies it develops and fears it dwells on.
Give Up and Die…you’ll be glad you did.