Recently I listened to a podcast of author Elizabeth Gilbert interviewed by the editor of the New York Times Book Review. She said that from her perspective, one of the most meaningful things to come out of the success of Eat, Pray, Love is that women come up to her and say “You reminded me of how great I felt when I was twelve and practiced figure skating three times a week…so now I’ve taken up figure skating again.”
Gilbert went on to say that the punch line was decidedly not that these women then became prize-winning figure skaters; the fact that they had first recalled and then resumed something they once loved doing was enough.
It made me think about how important it is that we pursue the things we love, that we not believe it’s too self-serving to make our own joy a priority. These days I feel like I get a lot of time for some of the things I love, far more than I have in the past ten years, anyway. With the kids at school seven hours a day, with me pursuing a freelance career rather than working outside the home, and with both of them having things they really like to do when they’re home that don’t require my participation, I do have more time for my own things than I did when they were younger. And maybe that’s why I’m generally happy and fulfilled these days.
But it also made me think about whether there are things I love that I neglect, things that would make me happy that I have failed to make a priority. I’d like to spend more time outdoors with the kids. I’d like to do more biking; I loved biking when I was in my 20’s and hardly ever go anymore. As I wrote about earlier this winter, I’d like to do more snowshoeing. I’d like to spend more time reading.
It’s not a very long list, and it’s not that self-indulgent either. But finding time for what we want to do always feels a little self-indulgent. Shouldn’t it be more important to prioritize, for example, community service, helping the poor, or working for good causes rather than biking or snowshoeing?
Well, those are not things we should overlook. But it my experience, the greatest step toward daily fulfillment is having time for the things important to you. When you are a happy and fulfilled person, you are of more good to society: first, those who know you, and then those in the greater community. So I will try to find more time for biking once the snow melts, and I’ll try harder to get my kids outdoors. As Elizabeth Gilbert said, the punch line need not be to win Olympic medals, but just because it is good to remind yourself of what you love; it makes you who you are.