That sense of existential doom, that worry about failure, that persistent weight on your shoulders… it isn’t real. You don’t have to take life so seriously.
Maybe you're serious because you see others around you who aren’t taking life seriously enough, and you don’t want to be one of those people who goofs off and wastes their whole life.
Maybe you're serious because you want to be successful, and you feel the only way to do so is to put your nose to the grindstone and basically grin and bear it day in and day out.
It’s easy to take life too seriously when you have a job you hate or that leaves you unfilled, because it's no fun for you. It can then become a habit to approach each workday like it is a deeply unpleasant task, such as cleaning out the litter box, except for eight hours straight.
In that type of job each moment is just another seriously unhappy chore and you believe your misery will only be relieved when you are finished with the day and can go home to watch television and eat muffins, or whatever provides an escape. Drink beer. Bury yourself elbow-deep in the internet and all manner of distractions that can be found there. A temporary respite from the dullness, stress, or misery that is your “9 to 5,” which you go about very seriously.
But what happens when you start on a path of doing work you really love? Or spending your free time pursuing the hobby you always wanted to? What happens when you decide enough is enough and you take your first steps toward living on purpose?
Perhaps, armed with the knowledge that you are now living a fulfilling life, you will be persistently bubbling with joy and a never ending fountain of excitement and gratitude. Perhaps you will wake up happy and carefree and fall asleep just as blissful. But… perhaps not.
Maybe the part of you that craves success, admiration, or financial security—the part of you that craves anything and everything—has you believing that the only way to get there is to take it all very seriously. “Don’t make mistakes. Don’t screw this up. Otherwise you will have to clean the litter box every day of your life until you die.”
So even when you have the dream job or are living the dream life, you can’t appreciate it because you are conditioned to take everything so dang seriously. Maybe joy is just a little too vulnerable, and happiness a little too fragile. Maybe suffering has become a way of life, a badge of honor that tells yourself and the world that you aren’t “goofing around.” You are a serious entrepreneur, a serious artist, a serious student—anything as long as it’s serious.
At some point the identification with seriousness became a part of your life, and no longer just a story that society tells. You buy into it, you take ownership of it, and a part of you is even proud of it. But what do you do when taking life seriously no longer aids you on your path toward fulfillment? In fact, what do you do when this seriousness is the very thing that is hindering your progress?
Seriousness, focus, determination, hard work: all of these attributes will contribute to the obtainment of your external goals. They will help you move up and forward in your career. They will help you plan and take that backpacking trip across Europe you always wanted. They will help change your circumstances, but they will not change your joy or appreciation of them.
If you are in the habit of seeing daily life as a list of chores that needs to be completed, then that’s all it will ever be, no matter how much you accomplish. If you have trained your mind to focus on the struggle and to believe that each moment of life should be taken seriously, you probably also take yourself too seriously.
And if we are taking each moment and ourselves seriously, then what are we NOT doing? Having fun. We aren’t enjoying the journey, or experiencing gratitude for every challenge. We aren’t playing anymore—engaging in an activity of pure presence and bliss that doesn’t have to be productive.
But only goofs play, right? People who spend too much time at the bar, or on the beach, or in front of a gaming console. Of course we can’t be successful and play at the same time! Hmmm… isn’t there something fundamentally flawed about this belief that the only way to find happiness is to spend a majority of our time being unhappy?
I realize that I have spent way too much of my life taking the whole experience way too seriously. It has become such a habit that even when I have nothing big, urgent, or existential to worry about, I often just have this feeling that I should be fretting about something. I finally understood what that feeling really is. It’s seriousness. It’s the belief that if I am not feeling overwhelmed or worried, then I’m not being serious enough, so my mind is going to just sit here and be serious about…nothing.
There is so much beauty and brilliance in this life. So much to be grateful for, especially if we have chosen to take our life in our own hands and create a path we love. There is bliss to be discovered, especially if we work hard to achieve our dreams. Once we have achieved them, or even achieved a step along the way, there can be joy abounding. That is, if we stop taking everything so seriously.
If we remember to play, to have fun, even when we are being productive, then maybe we can break the habit of seriousness and just enjoy life. We don’t have to make martyrs of ourselves in the name of success. We don’t have to sacrifice enjoyment for achievement. In fact, if we can’t find bliss in what we have accomplished, what is the point?