Several events this past week reminded me of the importance of enjoying life: a friend’s father died, a young mother I know suffered a recurrence of cancer and I got an e-mail asking for advice to give to a high school graduate whose mother died five years ago.
Other reminders: a rededication ceremony of the chapel of Grady Hospital in Atlanta and the tragedy of Air France Flight 447 sufficed. All reminded me of the fragility of life and the importance of enjoying spending time with those we love.
So yesterday, instead of organizing my office as I had planned, I spent hours reading to my children, the three of us nestled among the large cushions of our couch in the screened-in porch, with a frog croaking in the background as night fell. While my office might still need some attention, I don’t regret having spent the time with my children.
In these times of financial trouble, enjoying life might sound self-indulgent, if not impossible – but it is the antidote that these times require. As Aristotle said, “Happiness depends upon ourselves.” It is up to us to enjoy our lives, lives that we are constantly reminded are all too short.
In “5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours,” which I co-authored with my father Newt Gingrich, the fourth principle is “Enjoy Life.” We include being pleasant and grateful, enjoying gratitudes and pleasures, taking time to recover, giving to others and flowing through life.
Barbara Fredrickson, the Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, has focused on the importance of positive emotions in her research. She found that positive emotions such as joy and contentment have "the potential to broaden people's habitual modes of thinking and build their physical, intellectual, and social resources." Broader thinking is just what we need to survive in these hard times, and to flourish in good times.