Why not seize the pleasure at once? How often is happiness destroyed by preparation, foolish preparation! – Jane Austen
This was writtenby Jane Austen, which I think is worth noting. This is someone who wrote many excellent books, considered chick lit in their time, the early1800s, but which are regarded as classics now, such as Pride and Prejudice. If you read the books, rather than watch the fine BBC adaptations, you will see they are full of wisdom, philosophy and observations about human nature. Jane was clearly extremely bright and observant. We studied Pride and Prejudice for O level at school. At first I found it heavy going as a 14 year old however once it was explained to me, and as it unfolded and I got used to the old English, I was drawn in by the unfolding plot and tension between the characters. I haven’t yet read it again, cover to cover because when I started it a few years ago, I found it so fascinating and intense that I kept being inspired to write in my jornal, much as these quotes inspire me, and I wouldn’t have time to go back to read much more.
Anyway I digress. Notice that the second sentence is a statement, not a question and the word foolish is repeated. She is telling us that it is foolish to prepare, be perfectionists and believe we have to do something properly, having gathered all the supplies, done the research etc. I agree; it is foolish. When I used to paint with the kids, they would do no preparation whatsoever and just enjoy painting. I would spend the time it took for them to do a whole painting – all of 5 to 10 minutes, looking through books to get inspiration for mine. Next they would scoot off, bored and I would clear up. I soon learned that craft with the kids meant supervising, not attempting to do any myself. However if I too just got started, I might have actually painted something. The kids were not inhibited by any need to do something well. They were doing it for fun. At what age they stopped living in the moment, in order to seize the pleasure, I don’t know.
It is the same with gifts. My son will open a gift and start to use it there and then. He does not need to allow himself the time to play or to save it for later, or make sure the conditions are just right. It is exciting and he goes for it. My gifts can remain untouched for weeks, no matter how much I want to use them.
With one of these posts this week, I decided to mull over the quote a little first and write brief points on what I wanted to include before I started. I then lost the flow somewhat and took a lot longer to write, as I kept referring to my notes. I have gone back to just writing off the top of my head. No preparation here, foolish or otherwise. And I am enjoying the free flow, seeing what emerges from this stuffed head of mine. I don’t need to write the best essay on a subject. I need to enjoy myself.
Some days like today I seized the pleasure at once after breakfast, doing a jigsaw, crosswords and going out for coffee. It did bring me happiness but I had slight unease about having a day of ‘sloth’ so I punctuated my fun with results driven activities. I went for a run, did a little study and am now practising my free flow writing. Other days I start with ‘work’ – gardening or cleaning or filing. On those days I find it very hard to stop and punctuate my work with pleasure. Every time I walk to the sofa to sit down with a magazine as ‘reward’ for all my hard work, I see something else that absolutely needs fixing at that moment – a mark on the floor, some items to put away etc. And often by the time I get to that magazine, it is really late and I fall fast asleep.
It is foolish to procrastinate instead of seizing the pleasure, especially when you are really in the mood for something. It also works the other way. When I had assignments I was uninspired by at University, I would insist that the room had to be tidy or I couldn’t possibly work. Was that true? Or was the preparation procrastinating? If I was gripped with an idea for an assignment, I could write it any old place, tidy room or not.
So Jane’s statement for me could equally be Why not seize the work at once? How often is satisfaction destroyed by preparation? To just dive into work or play when you are in the mood is ideal. It will flow, you will enjoy whatever it is and time soon passes.
At times there is no preparation. I want to do the activity. I have allowed or accepted that it must/can be bdone. There is no preparation. So often we don’t let ourselves do that activity that makes us happy because we feel guilty. We then suddenly find other things to do, even if we want to have fun. I call it Circling our prey. I do this in shops also when I spot the exact thing I have been looking for. I circle it instead of going directly to it. And I have learned that it is common as women to feel guilty seizing the pleasure. And especially female Scanners. We imagine we need more time to make it worth while or find excuses not to start. But I have learned to set my pleasure as a to do item, like work; that it is important to have fun also. And it takes surpsingly little time to sieze the pleasure, as long as I allow myself to be bad at what I am doing and just get on with it. I only need 3 to 5 minutes to practise my terrible juggling, 10 minutes on the piano and an hour to paint or write. None of these are done with any preparation or skill. No one is judging my efforts. And I am happy, not only while doing the fun stuff, but for having done them, for remembering to value myself and my time and happiness.
So back to Jane’s question. Why not seize the pleasure at once? Ask yourself why you may not be. Try taking 5 minutes to seize the pleasure. Set a timer for 5 minutes if you have to and break down your resistance to even starting. Relieve the pressure of having to be good to get pleasure. That 5 minutes is not going to affect anyone else’s day but your own, and for the better.
The best parties and conversations are impromptu ones. No preparation, cleaning, menu decisions. Ditto with phone conversations when you just find you are on the same wavelength with someone at that point in time and you both have so much to share. Yet if you plan to call someone at a certain time, you have no such guarantees and it often at least starts a little politely if not continues that way. So will dinner parties. Who knows what energy each participant will bring at the allotted time?
So I think the wisdom in this from Jane is to just allow yourself the pleasure, especially if you are in the mood for it. Preparation will distract you from the flow and stilt your creativity and enthusiasm during the activity. Perfectionism will surely kill any happiness also and make you less likely to try again. If you are aware of yourself you will realise when is the right time to drop everything and seize the pleasure at once. No preparation necessary.
Apparently women tend to do too much research for a project and men do too little. We may get the best outcome but will have wasted a disproportionate amount of time on it. Maybe this advice was aimed at women. There can perhaps be a happy medium if an outcome is required, however I think she is talking about the pure pleasure, no outcome required activities; whatever appeals in that moment. You are being yourself in that moment, following your heart. And those moments can be rare. Don’t allow the mind to prepare. Put your heart not your head in charge of your happiness.