When I was a kid, my mother was a wonderful homemaker. She was always there for her three children, she kept a fastidiously clean home, she was a terrific cook and despite her diminutive stature — she was 5’2″ and scarcely 100 pounds — she managed to keep us all in line.
My mom always made a big fuss over mealtimes, and I vividly remember the yellow dishes she used to set the dinner table every night. Along with our yellow everyday plates, she also had a set of “special occasion” china dishes. My mom treasured this set, as did I, since I wasn’t trusted to wash, dry or otherwise handle them thanks to a somewhat limited 8-year-old attention span.
As a young kid, I could’ve cared less if I was eating off fine china, ceramic dishes or even paper plates. I was more consumed by what was being served on top of them. But even as a child, I couldn’t understand why, if our special china dishes gave my mom such joy, she only used them occasionally. Heck, my Mickey Mantle baseball card was far more valuable than china dishes, but I paraded that card around whenever I had the chance.
Now that I am 55 years older, I wish I had better followed the lead of my 8-year-old self, valuing joy in the present moment rather than assuming the same experience would be available to me down the road. This seems to be a mistake many of us make.
How many times have you heard friends — or even yourself — say things like, “I plan to start traveling when I retire,” or “I’d love to have lunch with a good friend today, but I have so much to do around the house,” or “I’ll try and make my daughter’s ball game next week, when hopefully work quiets down.”
I am not saying that you need to become a pleasure-seeking hedonist, focusing solely on yourself and forsaking all responsibility. But what I am saying is that family caregivers, who have so many tasks to juggle on a daily basis, should aim for as balanced a life as possible, one that permits grabbing the joy that presents itself TODAY.
Please don’t allow too many of these moments to slip through your fingers. What really helped me understand the cost of shunning today’s joy was a simple equation that I read in Five by Dan Zadra.
Like many people, quantifying things helps me better understand a situation’s importance. For instance, if my cholesterol is over 200, an alarm bell goes off; if my temperature is above 98.7, I pay more attention to how I’m feeling; and if my PSA were to be over 4, I’d investigate further. You get the picture.
When I came across Zadra’s equation he offered me a set of numbers that enabled me to better understand the consequences of my actions… and inactions. Here it is:
1. Take the average lifespan for Americans, which is 79 years old and multiply that by the numbers of days in a year (365, for simplicity’s sake let’s forget leap years). This equals the total number of days (28,835) the average American is on earth.
2. Now, take your age (I am 63 years old), and multiply that by the number of days in a year (365) and you get the total number of days you have been on this earth. In my case, it is 22,995 days.
3. To determine the number of days you have left, subtract (2) from (1). For me, that is 5,840 days.
WOW, only 5,840 days left! Are you kidding me? I found this stat incredibly sobering and it has certainly changed the way I look at putting off positive experiences.
When I think back to those good dishes from childhood, I smile because I realize that my 8-year-old self knew an intrinsic truth that my 63-year-old self is trying to relearn. All of our plates are full, but that is reason enough to seek out moments of joy whenever they present themselves. And once you start looking, I think you’ll be surprised by how many of those moments — big or small — pop up every single day.
Help yourself. Help others.