The sun was setting on a unusually cool June evening as S.V. and I sat in the park that surrounds the Templo de Debod in Madrid, Spain. Hues of gold frosted the tips of the verdant trees, giving the impression of early autumn. It was a nice evening. I noticed how many people were at the park having picnics with family, and sitting around in circles drinking beer and sharing stories. I noticed how many people enjoyed the present moment. I’ve noticed this behavior elsewhere in Spain, but I suppose I didn’t give it much thought.
One of the reasons why I like Spain is because the Spanish do not compromise living their lives. They work hard, but perhaps not as hard (maybe neurotic is a better word) as Americans. They take long breaks. They stay up late. They take strolls. They take naps during the day. They drink beer and wine at lunch. They aprovechar, they take advantage of their time. It is a cultural thing, widely accepted and practiced. Despite the Catholic Church’s preoccupation with death that influenced Spanish society for centuries, I like to think the Spanish are now secretly Buddhist, living in the present instead of focusing so much on the afterlife.
While many can – and do – point their fingers to these attitudes as among the many culprits for Spain’s economic woes, there are valuable lessons to be learned from them. Namely, one must not neglect pleasure. In fact, one should make time for it. What is a life that doesn’t involve enjoyment or pleasure? Arguably, it is not much a life. Of course it is important to work hard at things that matter, but one shouldn’t do so at the expense of enjoying the pleasures this world has to offer. Focus on enjoying the material world, this world, the here and now. This is one of the most salient positions of the materialists; this is the rerum natura. The experience of the present, of presence, is all we really have.