Sept. 4, 2001 -- Richard Carlson, author of several Don't Sweat the Small Stuff books, is back. His latest installment, Don't Sweat the Small Stuff for Men: Simple Ways to Minimize Stress in a Competitive World, offers 100 brief chapters of advice geared for the male psyche. He advises men to avoid letting their competitive natures rule their lives and to let go of life's small stresses. Read an excerpt here.
Chapter 1: Have An Affair
I thought the title of this strategy would grab your attention and would be a great place to begin this book!
Okay, not that kind of affair!
The kind of affair I'm talking about is a love affair with life. If there's one thing I've noticed that seems to be lacking in many men, it's a passion for life. It seems that many of us have lost that sense of wonder and awe for the incredible gift of life itself. We've become lost in the multitude of responsibilities, ambitions, drive, and commitments. We've become very serious and heavyhearted. Many of us have lost our sense of humor and our perspective. We've lost our compassion, as well. Instead of marveling at it all, we take life for granted. We become stuck in the mundane and succumb to boredom. It's as if we're doing nothing more than putting in time and going through the motions.
Life is slowly passing us by. Without a genuine sense of enthusiasm, a zest for life and a lighthearted spirit, we take our problems and obstacles too seriously. We become uptight and a drag to be around. More than anything else, we start sweating the small stuff. Life starts to bother us instead of amusing us. People are seen as burdens instead of as gifts. Challenges are dreaded instead of seen as opportunities.
The solution to all of this is to have an affair with life. The idea is to reignite your passion for living, and to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. Remind yourself how precious and how short this adventure really is. I read a great book called A Parenthesis in Eternity. What a great way to think about the duration of your life — as a blip on a passing screen. We're here for a moment in time — and then we're gone. Why waste one second on self-pity, frustration, irritation, and all the rest? Our lives are so much more important than that.
It's shocking what happens to the quality of your life when you put it into this perspective. All of a sudden, the things that seemed so big seem small. And the things that seemed so small — and the things we postpone and take for granted -- seem so big! We see that, for the most part, we usually prioritize in reverse order. But we can change all that in a moment. We can make a shift right now.
The things that we so often attach importance to are important, but it's a question of degree. Success, perfection, achievement, money, recognition -- you can have them all, but they're not everything. In fact, without a passion and appreciation for life, they don't amount to much.
I was talking to a group of men about this subject. A few days later, I received a call from one of them that sums up the essence of this strategy. He said that while we were talking, he had thought that my "intentions" were good, but that I didn't really understand how serious and important his "role" was to everyone.
As fate would have it, while driving home that evening, his life changed in a single moment. He was nearly clipped by a huge truck on the freeway. He wasn't hurt, but it was a very close call. The near miss brought forth the insight that he hadn't spent virtually any time with any of his three children in several years, and that they were growing up very quickly. For the first time in years, tears came down his face as he realized that he was missing the point of life — as well as his chance to live it. When he arrived at home, he sat down with his family and told them that he was going to be making some changes in his life, beginning with appreciating his family. He had had a major change of heart.
Although this type of realization often has to do with family, it's not just about family. It's even larger than that. Recognizing the miracle of life — and having an affair with it — means that you being to attach great value to the moments of everyday life. The people you live and work with — and, for that matter, go grocery shopping with — all take on far more importance. Nature appears more beautiful, life is more precious, "things" and conveniences are more appreciated. You become, not less effective, but less demanding on others and on yourself, because you better understand the relative importance and significance of the events around you. Things won't get to you so much, and you won't be sweating the small stuff — at least, not as often!
An affair with life is real, and it can happen to anyone at any time. All it takes is the commitment to reflect upon the miracle of life itself and to remember, each day, how lucky we are to be alive. Think about what it means to wake up in the morning and have "another day to live". Some day, that won't be the case. In the meantime, live each day like it really matters — because it does.
One final note on this subject. Needless to say, an affair with life will never get you into any trouble with your wife or girlfriend. On the contrary, they will appreciate your change of heart as much as you do. So have fun.
Copyright 2001 Richard Carlson, Ph.D.