Enjoying vs. Enduring Life — Which One Are You Doing?

Last week, Vancouver was hit with its first snowfall of the season.

As expected, the rain-accustomed city basically shut down when the snow reached its peak; bridges started to close, buses stopped running, cars got stuck, and classes got cancelled. And, sure enough, my lovely but prone-to-worry mother sent me a flood of texts urging me to bundle up, keep my phone charged and flashlight ready in case of a power outage, and to stay indoors as much as possible. (My friends from other parts of Canada are probably laughing at this, but I digress.)

Without thinking much of it, I’d resigned myself to doing just that. It felt like the natural thing to do — to view the snow as a pesky disruption that had to be waited out, until I could resume with business as usual. But when I scrolled through social media that day, I was pleasantly surprised to find that other people had completely different experiences.

They weren’t sitting comfortably in their living rooms wrapped up in a blanket, burrito-style, like I was; they were out there enjoying the snow, making snow angels and tossing it in the air with childlike wonder and awe. For them, the snow wasn’t just a disruption; it was a gift. It was something beautiful to admire, not just a potential threat to their comfort or safety. 

It made me realize that I’d been living most of my life “on the defence”.

I don’t blame my parents for raising me to be cautious. They grew up in a country where hardship and strife were the norm, where ‘surviving’ was an accomplishment and ‘thriving’ was just a luxury, so it made sense for them to live cautiously and defensively (I am fortunate to live in a place where this mindset is perhaps not as necessary).

I was raised to value ‘safety’ above all else — perhaps even more than adventure or growth. They lovingly encouraged me to “stay inside and be safe,” but I can’t remember a single time they’ve told me to “go outside and have fun.” While other people were approaching life with arms wide open, I’ve approached it with arms wrapped around my own torso, shielding myself from who-even-knows-what. 

But the problem with always being on the lookout for what could go wrong is that I forget to recognize what’s going right.

After all, it’s hard to savour the present moment when I’m always worried about what’s coming around the corner. As I saw the sheer joy and excitement that lit up people’s eyes during that snow day, I couldn’t help but feel inspired — but also a little sad.

I realized that “excitement” was not an emotion that I felt very often. If I felt it, I’d quickly temper it down in an effort to manage my own expectations and not get too hopeful, lest I be disappointed. If something went right, I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I approached the feeling of excitement with a sense of paranoia rather than allowing myself to fully feel it without restraint. I admired those who didn’t put a cap on the amount of joy they allowed themselves to feel.

I’d underestimated the importance of joy and excitement, brushing these emotions off as fleeting and less significant. I’ve always been proud of my ‘endurance’ (ability to persist despite difficulties), ‘courage’ (ability to act despite fears), and ‘discipline’ (ability to act dutifully despite delaying gratification). But these qualities are formed around suffering — or proceeding, despite the absence of positive feeling. Joy and excitement, on the other hand, are born from positivity. Yes, it’s important to grit your teeth and grind through life when it gets tough, but it’s equally as important to relax and savour all that life has to offer.

Life doesn’t have to just be something to endure, but also something to enjoy.

Life’s not just about safety, sacrifice, and self-control, but also fun, play, and freedom. It’s not just about surviving, but also thriving. Resilience is important, yes, but so is gratitude — just like lightheartedness is as important as grit, and wonder is as important as vigilance.

So the next time you feel an inkling of joy or excitement, don’t restrain yourself. Feel it. Really feel it. And, if you want to, go outside and play in the snow.

– Celine

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