I read not one, but two disappointing novels (The Mountain Shadow and Nine Perfect Strangers) over the festive break. Of course, this is not the most tragic thing, but it stung more than I thought it would. Why was I so bitter about reading a couple of mildly unsatisfying books?
A small part of the answer was that I had been looking forward to both the books so much. They were from authors I liked. Shantaram, the prequel to The Mountain Shadow, is one of my all-time favorite novels.
The main reason, though, was that I had heaped way too much anticipation onto the two novels. Both books are not ’50 Shades’ terrible, but they were unlikely to have ever stood up to my gold-standard expectations after months and months of almost solidly reading non-fiction.
Don’t get me wrong; I do enjoy non-fiction, very much. But I also love novels too and I tipped the scales far too much in one direction. In the past few years, I very rarely let myself ‘indulge’ in reading fiction. I allowed myself to read, maybe, a couple of novels a year and then a couple in the festive season. And this ‘limit my novel reading’ rule is…, well, its just PANTS. I can understand why I created it, but when I look into my reasons, nothing stacks up. Reading fiction makes me happy. Why would I not do it more often?
Here are three utterly stupid rationalizations for why we postpone happiness…
1) Utterly Stupid Rationalization – Happiness is a Reward
I read novels at the end of the year as a reward for all my hard work during the year. In other words, I delay doing something that makes me very happy until after the work is done. It is never actually finished but you know what I mean.
It’s easy to see where my ‘happiness is a reward’ rationalization has arisen. We live in a culture that aspires to retirement, vacations and the almighty weekend.
This may seem like the norm but it is utterly stupid!
What is one of The Top Five Regrets of the Dying? No surprises: ‘I wish I had let myself be happier’. Yes, it may seem strange but we CAN choose to be happy. Every single day. The very fortunate get to attain some happiness in their work, but if this is not the case then notice what makes you happy and lean into that. On a daily basis, make use of the micro moments to feel good – the sun on your skin, your child’s laughter, a short, silly video. Use your senses to indulge in a tiny bit of happiness.
2) Utterly Stupid Rationalization – I’m Too Busy for Happiness
Reading novels, especially since I had kids, seems like an indulgence, an almost frivolous waste of time that could be better spent on more important pursuits. In other words, I simply decided that I am way too busy to spend my time reading for fun.
Somehow, I lead myself to believe that I am too darn busy to do one of the handful of things I absolutely love to do most in the entire world.
Isn’t that just utterly stupid?
And yes, of course, like you, I have a big, full life, but I often slide into prioritizing things that do not contribute to any real, lasting happiness. Instead of reading I can find myself watching a banal sitcom, shooting off an email so I can keep my inbox down and scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. Sometimes all at the same time.
Maybe I cannot lose myself in a book on a rainy Sunday afternoon for hours at a time like I did when I was younger. But I can still get to bed a half hour earlier or read a book on my phone in five or ten minute increments while waiting for school pick up.
Happiness is not something that happens to us; a lot of time we have to cultivate it.
3) Utterly Stupid Rationalization – I Don’t Deserve Happiness
The above two rationalizations – happiness is a reward and I am too busy to indulge in happiness, sound kind of reasonable. However, they only scratched the surface of why I almost stopped reading novels.
Deep down, I have a reoccurring negative thought pattern that tells me that I don’t really deserve the peak level of happiness that reading a great story can bring me.
There is a bug in my system that constantly reminds me that since others have such real tragedy and horror in the lives, and my life is fairly fortunate, then who am I to strive for soul-filling joy?
I somehow have come to believe that I don’t deserve genuine happiness. That I have ‘enough’ and so shouldn’t want for more. The Top Five Regrets of the Dying book reminds us though that we don’t have to feel guilt about happiness – “it is a lighter feeling that we all desire”.
When evaluated, this ‘I don’t deserve happiness’ notion really does seem utterly stupid!
The other day I entered an online competition to win a pile of novels – and, just like that, I WON it. This could be just plain luck, but I would like to believe it was the universe telling me that not only was it acceptable, but absolutely essential to read more fiction this year. When NINE novels literally land on your doorstep, it does make you reassess what you thought was true.
Take This as a Sign
Reading novels may not be your thing, but you will have something else that makes you incredibly happy but that you postpone because of an utterly stupid rationalization such as you can only have it as a reward, you are too busy or you don’t really deserve it.
Please, please, please, do that indulgent thing, the thing that makes your heart sing, the thing that lights up your soul with joy. Do it even if you still believe these utterly stupid rationalizations. Do it because you read a blog today that told you too. Do it because this is YOUR sign from the universe.
The Top Five Regrets of the Dying– A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departed – Bronnie Ware
The Mountain Shadow– Gregory David Roberts
Nine Perfect Strangers– Liane Moriarty
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