I remember the day life stopped being fun and became work. I was 14 and we were visiting a close family friend in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. A doctor of some repute at that time, servicing the rich and famous who used to go to Saratoga for the waters and horse racing, he took me on his rounds of the track, the mineral spas, and the general hospital. I must have expressed some interest in medicine (or most likely my Mom had asked him to mentor me and pique my interest in medicine, as she really, really wanted a doctor in the family) because he started showing me various tools of the trade including the sphygmomanometer (blood-pressure cuff). In order to demonstrate it, he wrapped it around my arm and began taking my blood pressure. At one moment he raised his eyebrows and proceeded to take it a second time. When he had finished, he looked at me and said, “You’d better be careful, your blood pressure is 140/90…you have the arteries of a 40 year old man”. He reminded me that my father had died of an MI at 46 years old and that this was possibly the beginning of my going down that same path.
From that day onward, life stopped being fun and became purposeful. Up until that moment, I lived rather intuitively: I rode my bike and played baseball, I ate what I liked and didn’t eat what I didn’t like, I read books that were fun, watched movies that were exciting, and played outside in the sun with my friends”. But from that moment, I realized that I must take control of my destiny in order to avoid my father’s fate. I got my Mom to stop using butter and olive oil in favor of Fleischmann’s margarine and sunflower oil. I stopped using salt. If my grandmother made her delicious fried keftethakia (meatballs), I refused to eat them and insisted she should bake everything as I would no longer eat fried foods. I started exercising, even joining the weightlifting club at my high-school. I read books on health, fitness, martial arts, Yoga, etc.
I realized today, some forty years later, that this pattern of purposeful living has sucked the pleasure out of life. Don’t get me wrong…I’ve done lots of fun stuff and I’m grateful. But I also realize that all those activities were chosen because they also had a purpose above and beyond their inherent pleasure. While I would go on a long hike I remember saying to myself, “Hey this is also great exercise, good for the heart”. It’s as if a second voice or observer had been implanted into my brain on that day 42 years ago…the voice of “Should”.
We live in a time of great “Shoulds”. It seems that at every turn someone is telling us how we should behave, what we should eat, who we should associate with, what we should think, how we should exercise, etc. We go to fitness clubs and hire personal trainers to help us get fit….while we hire a snow-removal crew and lawn maintenance company. We love watching the Olympics but forget that the Ancient Games were not an entertainment…they were a test of the real-life skills required for war…running, javelin, wrestling, etc. If the Ancient Greeks were organizing the Games today they would include: Lawn mowing, snow shoveling, gardening, furniture moving, painting, and grocery-hauling as events.
Bottom line: I’ve come to the realization that I (we) have become very far removed from any intuitive sense of what fun really is…all the while making money for all those eager to tell us how to live following their path.
It’s funny how the only activities I really still enjoy doing are the same ones I did as a kid, especially biking, cross-country skiing, and hiking.
P.S. I just poured myself a lovely artisanal microbrewery beer…lots of bioflavinoids, good for the heart…see what I mean?