Thursday, October 29, 2015
"Ah, so you'll have time to write a novel or two."
"So you could volunteer time with the schools or Red Cross."
"I imagine you might want to go back to photography as a serious hobby."
"You can get serious about a monetized blog or web site."
"Remodel your bathroom/refinish your floors/rebuild your deck/pour new steps for the front entry."
"If grandkids come soon, you can be their day care provider."
Now, it's possible I will do some or even all of those things; all of them are on the list of things I might like to to do. But when these questions come up or suggestions are offered, I remain non-committal, nodding vaguely and saying I haven't decided yet. Because I'd secretly like to give an answer that would strike people as a little unusual, even disappointing.
"I'd like to practice enjoyment."
Enjoyment is a somewhat alien concept in American culture. We are champions of accomplishment, of material acquisition, of achieving tangible goals. On some level we are even champions of hedonistic pleasure, which is kind of the shadow side of the drive to accomplishment. In this country, we tend to pursue pleasure with the same exhausting frenzy as we pursue a workplace promotion. Americans can sometimes even be identified as champions of "fun," which in our culture seems to be defined as a kind of heart-pounding frenzy.
But hedonistic pleasure and fun, as we know it are not the same as enjoyment, I think.
The etymology of the word is hazy and a little imprecise:
Enjoyment: the act of experiencing joy
Enjoy: the experience of joy
Joy: the emotion of delight or happiness by experiencing something good or satisfying.
All of this seems to derive originally from the Greek gaio, which means "to rejoice," so finding a definition is a cyclical exercise the solution for which remains a little elusive. But in any case the quality of enjoyment seems a bit different that what we normally call fun or pleasure. It's a quieter quality, a bit more contemplative, perhaps.
And simple enjoyment is something we're not all that familiar with, in general—not in American society. Other cultures seem better at it. During a recent trip to Italy, I saw a lot of enjoyment all around me, though admittedly much less accomplishment (Italians are notoriously inefficient). Europeans in general seem to be better at enjoyment; the entire month of August seems to be when everybody goes on holiday and practices pure enjoyment. In China, you can pretty much give up on meeting any kind of manufacturing deadline during the entire month around the New Year celebration—everybody is enjoying themselves. And it's also in China where it's pretty much standard practice for people to leave the work force at age 55 or so, and for them to then seek simple enjoyment. They become family elders, mentor grandchildren, go to the public parks to practice Tai Chi or play games with their friends. Who knew those commies could be so wise?
It's interesting to realize that enjoyment can be present even in the absence of pleasure or even fun. The enemy of enjoyment is resistance of any kind, and lack of resistance is quite conducive to enjoyment. You can enjoy almost anything simply by relaxing fully into whatever experience is present. A traffic jam can be enjoyed if you settle into listening to music or thinking sly thoughts about pretty girls. Suffering from the flu, you can either fight against the experience, or you can enjoy it in a kind of perverse way by curling up in a blanket in front of the fireplace, with a cup of hot soup while watching favorite old movies.
So enjoyment seems to me partly about abandoning the pushing and pulling that typically dominates life, relinquishing the effort to turn current circumstances into something different. Enjoyment, as distinct from pleasure-seeking, seems to be based more on satisfaction in, and with, the status quo.
I don't know that I'll be able to pull this off readily. I'm the product of a Lutheran midwestern
But the next time somebody asks what I'm going to do with my free time in semi-retirement?
"I'm going to practice enjoyment."
With enough practice, I might even get good at it.