“Why not seize the pleasure at once?
—How often is happiness destroyed by preparation, foolish preparation!” ~Jane Austen
There was a job in the next state that offered more security, better benefits, more time at home with the family, and a shorter commute to work. Why didn’t she explore the possibilities? Why not at least interview for the job? She was a planner, and everything in her life needed to be in ‘the plan’. None of this would work for her. No matter how good it might be, it wasn’t in the plan she had developed. Austen’s words serve as encouragement for those afraid to step into the unknown. If today were the last you had, would you wish you had seized the pleasure at once or be satisfied that you had spent your time on preparation, possibly foolish preparation?
Every time I enter a store selling calendar books, I am mesmerized by the squares and rectangles on the pages. I find the carefully crafted books to be inspirational in my desire to be better organized and to be a better planner. When I fill in the empty spaces, I like how it feels to see a plan move from my mind to the page. It took years for me to appreciate the blank spots on the pages and the blank spaces in my schedule. Those spots and spaces are the ones that allow for spontaneity — a word that sends some people into sheer panic.
Maybe you grew up with parents who had every minute planned, and now you are offering the same gift to your children. Order is good. Planning is good. When we instill in our children that life must only operate on a schedule, though, it seems to do more harm than good. Teaching our children that spontaneity is part of a healthy life appears to be the real gift.
“Who is it?” Someone would ask when we said the phone call was for them when I was a kid. Before Caller ID was available, we simply answered the phone, taking our chances, if no one was there to screen calls for us. There were no answering machines to take messages, and we didn’t want to miss hearing from someone. Today, though, for me to answer the phone without looking at Caller ID is a rarity, and if I’m pushed for time I might let it go to voicemail. Now, I might text with people to find a time to talk on the phone, and that is a bit embarrassing to admit. Is life so busy with planned activities that stopping to have a conversation with a friend must be planned as well?
What is it that keeps some of us stuck to a schedule and afraid of being spontaneous, of having a little unplanned fun? Lots of research out there says fear, and fear seems to come up frequently as a cause of problems. In this case, it might be fear of losing control or a fear of ‘what if things go wrong’ kind of thinking. As anxiety does all too well, it shuts us down to miss opportunities for adventure as we stay safely locked to our schedule of certainties.
The truth is, some of the best times I’ve had in life were the unplanned moments, the spontaneous acts of joining when invited to participate unexpectedly, or stopping my work to enjoy an omelet prepared with love. This isn’t the same as impulsive behavior, which is without thought for safety or concern for how it might impact others. Impulse is jumping off the bridge into the lake because everyone else is doing it. Ah, with age comes wisdom.
If you’re thinking that being spontaneous is not that important, there is plenty of research and reporting to encourage you to loosen up a bit. If you are a creative person, it is especially helpful — as in stopping to write a song (or an article) or paint when an idea hits you, instead of waiting for a planned time and hoping the ideas are still there. And for the rest of you who aren’t sure being spontaneous is worth it, the pros say it makes you happier, more flexible, and more relaxed.
In the holiday season that looms before us, why not throw caution to the wind and play it by ear (even for a day)? I’m not giving up those beautifully drawn squares and rectangles, but I’m opening myself up to writing in pencil instead of pen, and I encourage you to do the same. I hope to seize more pleasure and engage in a little less foolish preparation.