Learning How to Live Life to the Fullest: Happiness and Chocolate… Are They Similar?
I don’t know about you, but I love chocolate! Although I try to eat a proper diet most of the time, I have definitely cultivated a taste for the sweet stuff. Thankfully, I have found a “healthier” version of chocolate that I really enjoy. I limit how often I treat myself, and I try to limit myself to this particular “healthier” kind of chocolate. However, in the past, I was definitely much more indulgent. I recall many years ago when I was shopping at Costco, I found the most delicious, moist chocolate cake. And it was gigantic! The first bite was so exquisite, I couldn’t help taking another, and another, and yet another. But, after a few bites, it wasn’t quite as good. Don’t get me wrong, the cake was excellent, but each progressive bite wasn’t quite as good as the experience of that first bite. And because the cake was so big, there was no way I could eat the entire thing in one sitting, so it lasted for quite a while. After a few days, I was pretty tired of that cake! By now you’re probably wondering, “What does chocolate cake have to do with happiness?” My answer to you is, “Quite a bit! Let me explain it to you.”
Studies have shown that when we get something that is new and wonderful, eventually we get used to it and after a while, most of these “wonderful” feelings get less intense. But I don’t need to cite scientific studies to prove this. Let me use an example to which we all can relate: someone rubbing our feet. When the foot rub first begins, we think to ourselves, “Ohhhh, it feels so good!” After a while, the massage still feels good, but not quite as wonderful as when it first started, and after a bit longer, you may feel as though you’ve had enough. It’s not that you don’t enjoy it, but you eventually reach a point that you’re so “full” of the good feelings that they no longer seem so amazing.
Life is full of such examples. When we get used to something, when the newness of it has worn off, we stop enjoying it as much. One of the key factors of happiness is keeping things new and not getting into a rut. Then, we will enjoy life a lot, lot more. But how do we do this? How do we keep our hearts and minds new, fresh, and alive? It is really not so difficult! Let’s explore this together.
First, we must remember that it is nothing but our own mind that keeps us from viewing things as new and fresh. We tend to label or categorize things, and when we do so, we stop seeing them. There is an old saying that goes, “Once I see a sparrow and label it, I stop seeing it.” There is great truth in this statement. Once we have set expectations, we stop seeing things. The same principle applies to our experiences. Once we have a really great experience, and usually we perceive this first, initial experience to be the most intense, we relate everything back to it and seek the same “high” again. But life doesn’t always give us the same “high” again, particularly if we compare and contrast our experiences! It is this constant comparing and contrasting that keeps us from enjoying things in the present, right here and right now and keeps us from feeling fresh, new, and alive with a wonderful richness and fullness beyond imagination. There is a fun way we can experiment with this idea.
Let me use my own recent experience as an example. This past Father’s Day, my wife and children took me to the Getty Center, one of the most beautiful museums in Southern California and even the world. When I was there, some exquisite artwork was on exhibit. When I look at artwork, I’ll first read the plaque and the artist’s name, but then I just stand back and take in the colors, forms, and shapes. I don’t label anything, trying to simply open up my heart and in a sense, “feel” the painting in a visual, more intuitive level. I let my experience cogitate inside me at an emotional level, letting my emotions effect an outward expression. This is a wonderful way to interact with art. Actually, it is a wonderful way to interact with life!
Yes, sometimes we do need labels. Labels are important in remembering the past and, particularly regarding dangerous things, labels are very important. However, we miss out on so much of life when we’re wrapped up in our own notions instead of just experiencing that which is before us! If you have ever gone on a retreat with me or heard me speak to an organization, you know that I love to bring some “healthy chocolate” with me and allow everyone to have some. Before we sample the treat, I’ll first say, “Let’s pretend we are all aliens and have never, ever seen this substance before. First, let’s smell it and touch it and see what it’s like. Then, if we think it’s safe, let’s put it to our lips and see if we have any adverse reaction. Then, let’s put it to our tongues, still seeing if anything happens. What does it taste like? Then let’s put a piece into our mouths, not too big, and just hold it there without chewing or swallowing. We just hold the chocolate there and see what happens.” As you can probably imagine, at the end of this exercise, the chocolate seems to be the most exquisite piece of candy we’ve ever had in our lives! If you don’t believe me, try this exercise yourself, or better yet, join me for one of my retreats and see for yourself.
Now, this chocolate is a very good chocolate and healthy for us too, but it’s not that this chocolate truly is the best chocolate in the world. Instead, it is the fact that we are experiencing it with new, fresh eyes and senses, and new taste buds. This exercise really applies across the board, to everything in life. If we learn to quiet our minds and just be present with what is, then we learn to experience all the beauty and freshness of the world in a new, pristine state. When we label, we don’t see this nearly as well.
We must realize and constantly remember that we tend to over-use the mind. Our minds are going and going all day long, and we must learn how to still them and to simply enjoy life as it is right here, right now. This is what my health podcasts are focused upon doing, showing people how to live in the moment and enjoy the present. It is all just about being aware. Once we are aware of how much we label, we’ll start labeling less. I love going on walks and listening to the birds and seeing the fresh flowers. Because I don’t label them, I notice them each and every time as something new and wonderful. Life can be a wonderful adventure if we quiet our minds, stop labeling, and just enjoy the wonderful journey. If we see everything around us as new, we will enjoy life better and our experiences will be more intense, richer, and fuller. Even things we are used to seeing all the time will be better, because we will see them with new eyes. All the details, large and small, will become richer and fuller. It requires work and effort to create this way of thinking, but if we put forth the effort, we can successfully achieve this new way of perceiving and living. Then, we will reap the benefits, finally aware of all of the rich beauty in life that has always been there, but constantly overlooked. If we stop labeling things and get out of our heads and “just be,” then the entire, beautiful universe opens up to us. Learn not to label things and instead, see everything in this world as new and exciting. You will truly be amazed!
Dr. Robert Puff, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, author, international speaker, and meditation expert who has been counseling individuals, families, nonprofits, and businesses for over twenty years. A contributing writer to Psychology Today, he has authored numerous books and creates a weekly podcast on happiness at http://www.HappinessPodcast.org He also creates a weekly podcast on meditation, http://www.MeditationForHealthPodcast.com and a weekly podcast on spiritual enlightenment, http://www.EnlightenmentPodcast.com His retreat schedules can be found at http://www.HolisticRetreats.tv You also might find his blog useful at http://www.Meditation-Enlightenment.com If you are interested in having Dr. Puff speak to your organization or company, you can learn more about his speaking services at http://www.SuccessBeyondYourImagination.com