Sunday, February 19, 2012

Tricky pleasures



I wrote in an earlier post about my tendency to postpone any new personal projects, creative or otherwise, in search for the optimal solution. Another bad habit of mine is perhaps even more annoying, at least when you are trying to learn to live in the moment. I tend to postpone the little pleasures, too.

We Nordic people are often described as more or less earnest with a no-nonsense disposition. This used to be very much true and probably still often is in my generation because of our Lutheran upbringing. Not that I have anything against Martin Luther, on the contrary. But much like our parents, we were taught to be hard-working and humble and always to perform not only our duties but what anyone might expect of us. Work first, play second, if at all, was the doctrine. Thus, if you thought you hadn’t been productive enough in your spare time you would suffer from a bad conscience and feel you weren’t entitled to indulge yourself in any way.

In the above sense my parents were true Lutherans. Having been born in the 1920s, this was the only way they knew. They had always had to work hard and scrimp and save to make ends meet so that it had become their second nature. Almost until the end of their lives, they considered it – if not a sin – at least very inappropriate and somewhat resentful to be idle or enjoy yourself just for the sake of pleasure except in some special occasions when you really deserved it. No wonder I turned out this way.


Of course, a great deal of the high working ethic is in your character and cannot and should not be escaped, but I’m not sure how much of the matter-of-factness is inherited and how much learnt. Nevertheless, it took me decades to digest we are not born to fulfil anyone’s expectations but our own, and even longer to let myself enjoy the little moments of idleness without disturbing my conscience.

Still I often find I’m postponing one little pleasure or other until I feel I have earned it – sometimes to the extent that I completely forget about the ‘reward’ I had reserved for myself for a more deserving moment. Naturally, you could never forget a box of chocolates but will empty it eventually, if only a couple of pieces at a time. But it is annoying to realize you have hardly touched the fabulous pile of  Homes & Gardens magazines you were so pleased to find at a flea market months ago. The joy of discovery is a wonderful feeling but that should not be the end but the beginning of the fun.

Luckily, the younger generations do not have this kind of a burden to carry. The no-nonsense mentality hit their parents so hard they didn’t want to pass it on to their children when it was no longer necessary to be productive every single moment to manage. In general, I feel today’s young people know how to embrace the moment much better than we 50+ mamas and papas do. I respect and admire them for that. As for me, it appears I’ll need to continue practising. I put my trust in the young!


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