For Albert Camus, the most important question was “why not kill yourself?”. Dark and bleak as this may sound, pondering it can lead to a greater appreciation of life. Humans have evolved to be alert to danger, and are consequently good at noticing misery and pain; the little joys and pleasures often pass unnoticed. To counter this, psychotherapists advise people to sit down with family and friends, then take it in turns to call out reasons for living. You can turn it into an after-dinner game; the more trivial your reasons, the better. Here are twenty examples:
No one is ever so happy to see you as a dog, not even your own mother! Dogs won’t let you down. They never moan, they never talk about you behind your back, and they are thrilled by the simplest of pleasures; a dry biscuit, a visit from your sister, even a walk along the same muddy footpath he has walked a thousand times will send your dog into tail-wagging ecstasy.
Books provide guidance, comfort, escape, wisdom, humor, and beauty. Books release you from isolation and make you realize that your pain, loneliness, guilt, and shame are universal. The right book at the right time can change, or even save, a life.
3) Laying in a hot bath listening to music
Few things are quite so underrated as a long, hot bath. Spoil yourself: light some candles, fill the bath with scents and relaxation oils, then put on your favorite CD.
4) Being deep in the countryside on a clear, starry night
Look out into the cosmos and allow your mind to wander. Never lose a sense of awe at the vast mystery of the Universe into which you were born. It can also be comforting to remind yourself just how insignificant you and your problems really are.
5) Sitting in a cinema, with a box of warm popcorn on your lap, as the trailers end and the film begins
No matter how advanced and sophisticated home entertainment systems become, nothing will ever quite match the shared experience of a cinema. Don’t allow the DVD player to turn it into a lost pleasure.
6) Sharing a bottle of wine with friends
The sounds, colors, and rituals are so satisfying: the pop of the cork, the glug and splash as it pours, the different shades of white and red, and the pleasure of setting out glasses for people you love, then pouring their share.
7) Watching large flakes of snow fall on a windless day
As someone once said, waking to see the world transformed by snow is the closest you get to magic. Perspective is key. Try to look beyond the practicalities and inconveniences of such things.
8) Reading to a child who loves stories and doing the silly voices and faces
Harry Potter alone will keep you occupied for months. And reading to children is a great excuse to revisit those books you never quite outgrew.
9) Having something you ordered online arrive through the door
It is like opening the mailbox to discover a present! There are now enough films, books, and TV shows to keep you occupied for more than one lifetime.
10) Watching the first episode of a DVD box set with someone you love
Discovering they enjoyed it as much as you did and knowing you have another forty or fifty episodes still to see. This is even better when the weather is cold, grey, and miserable. It can be further improved by warm duvets and hot chocolate.
And that can be in any form: chocolate chip cookies plus cold milk alone answer Camus’ question. Or place a bar in the freezer for twenty minutes; it is worth it just to hear that satisfying snap.
12) Being kind
It is often said that selfish, greedy people have an easier time and that it is the sensitive and kind who suffer most. But kind acts benefit everyone. To be kind is to connect with another human being, and the more you connect the happier you will feel.
13) Learning something new
Embrace the information age. Be an eternal student, forever learning something new: Ancient Greek, car repairs, yoga, tennis, golf, bell-ringing, playing the trumpet, how to keep bees, it doesn’t matter.
The audio-book is a grossly underrated invention. At the flick of a switch, at any time of the day or night, a great actor will read a classic work of literature for you. And being read to is a pleasure you never outgrow.
15) Watching people on a sunny day
Go to a park or beach on a bright, sunny day and notice how mellow and happy everyone seems. Being around happy people is infectious.
16) Singing in the car at the top of your voice
The more people who join in the better. And make the songs joyful, upbeat, and life-affirming. Singing along to The Smiths or Radiohead isn’t quite the same!
17) Exploring a new city
Nothing is quite so thrilling as waking in a hotel room with a whole new city to explore. And that should include everything: the people, the clothes, the accents, the whole vibe of the place, not just the big landmarks.
18) Water Slides
No life is complete without a little pointless, idiotic fun. And you are never too old for a water slide, no matter what your children may say.
19) Trying a new restaurant
The modern, multicultural city has so many to offer: Thai, Indian, Greek, Chinese, the list goes on and on. And once you have discovered a new one, you can introduce a friend.
20) The future
Everyone knows there are threats, from climate change to overpopulation, but there are wonderful, exciting, extraordinary possibilities as well. Perhaps the aging process will be slowed, or even halted. Who knows where regenerative medicine will lead. Maybe humans will walk on, and then settle, Mars. Just how sophisticated will virtual reality become? Perhaps a cure for cancer will be found.
Such an exercise should be more than a mere party game. People are often so distracted by work, mortgages, and children, they never pause to consider what makes life worth living in the first place.