“I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.” – William Shakespeare
How many times have you done something only because you thought you were going to get something from it, and then didn’t get what you thought you would? Did you feel that this was a waste of your time and energy?
Think about what you typically do on a daily basis. How many of these things do you do simply for the sake of doing them? And, how many of these things do you do only to get an external reward?
It’s not a bad thing to engage in an activity only to get a reward (I mean, we all have to eat and have a place to live, right?). But, engaging in more activities that you enjoy simply for the sake of doing them will ultimately make your days that much more worthwhile. If the reward is simply the activity itself then you always get something out of it.
In his book “Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention,” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discussed two types of activity: autotelic and exotelic. Autotelic activity is activity you do for the sheer enjoyment of the activity itself. Exotelic activity is activity you do in order to get at some external reward. Most activities in life are exotelic, rather than autotelic.
Seeking Enjoyment For It’s Own Sake
How do you find activities that you enjoy simply for the sake of doing them? You might already know what they are. If that’s the case, make room for them in your life, make them a priority. Especially when your days are filled with things that you have to do, taking the time to do something you love isn’t just important, it’s a necessity.
And what about if you’re not sure what brings you joy for it’s own sake. This isn’t that hard. Just ask yourself – What do I have the greatest desire to do? Follow your desire and you are sure to find something that you are not only very good at, but love to do for its own sake.
“If you always do what interests you, at least one person is pleased.” – Katherine Hepburn
Seeking Enjoyment In Things You Have To Do
This one is a bit more difficult, but in a way, more important as there are many things you have to do, but don’t enjoy doing. Think about the goals you have for your life or personal qualities you possess and look at the activity from that perspective. For instance, if you hate to vacuum the floor and clean the bathroom, but you are trying to be more mindfull and meditate regularly, you can do the chores mindfully and use it as a type of meditation. If you are a very competetive person and you have a repetitive task to do at work you can see how fast you can do the activity or how you can do it the best.
Connect the activity to something about yourself and it will never be a waste of action, it will always be a learning experience.
Quality Of Experience
Why is an autotelic activity preferable to an exotelic activity? Simply because of the way that you feel when engaged in the activity. When Csikszentmihalyi studied people that who did things they enjoyed but did not get rewarded for them, he found that these people were motivated by the “quality of experience they felt when they were involved with the activity.” (Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, p. 110)
People have asked many times over – What is the key to happiness? And, the answer to this question is usually the attainment of some situation, object, circumstance or goal. People often define happiness in terms of the future, but neglect their present experience.
The quality of our experiences, while we might not be directly aware of it in the moment, go a long way towards how we feel about our day, our week, our year, our life. Seeking out activities that give us a certain “quality of experience” may not be the only key to happiness, but certainly contributes to it in a way that many other things don’t.
“They deem me mad because I will not sell my days for gold; and I deem them mad because they think my days have a price.” – Kahlil Gibran