One of the most frequent criticisms I get is that I'm too focused on serious things like productivity, self improvement, and learning. I value those things highly and often focus on them at the expense of fun. Here are a few paraphrased quotes:
"Life isn't just about work."
"As long as what you're doing makes you happy, it's okay."
"Life is about balance between work and play."
To explain my position, which you may reject even if I'm able to explain it clearly, I want to talk briefly about happiness and pleasure, two things that are cousins, but are often treated as though they're the same thing.
First, happiness. Let's say that there's a scale that goes from zero to one-hundred and measures your happiness. Let's also say that it doesn't measure just your happiness now, but rather your average happiness over the past month.
If your happiness is below twenty, maybe you're suicidal. If it's below fifty, your lack of happiness is such a distraction that you're unable to function normally. If you're around seventy or eighty, you're a happy person.
I think it's critically important to get to that seventy or eighty threshhold. If you aren't that happy, there are things that you can do to get there: eat healthy food, excercise, get sunlight, meditate, surround yourself with positive people, do the happiness challenge, etc. If your happiness is really low and it's due to a chemical imbalance, maybe you need to take medication, too. I'm not a doctor, so I don't really know if that's ever necessary.
But once you get to that eighty percent or whatever it is, there's little point in spending time and effort becoming more happy. Actually, I think that it's a little bit selfish. Once you get to the point where you're happy enough to be fully functional, maybe your efforts should be focused outwards to help other people as well.
That's where productivity comes in. Productivity is the means through which we can have an impact on the world. It's not just about making money or staying busy or feeling useful, it's about turning talents outwards to benefit others. I'm not going to save the world, and you're not either, but we can both make it a tiny bit better for other people.
Pleasure is a different story. We feel pleasure when we're happy, so we assume that pleasure makes us happy. But it's a cargo cult reaction. It's like pouring water on the grass to make it rain because there is always water on the grass when it rains.
If I watch a TV show, will I be happier after I watch it? No. Will I feel pleasure while watching it? Quite possibly. And what happens if I get pleasure from watching a TV show but find that I'm not happy afterwards? Well, maybe I'll want to watch another show.
It could be argued that there's a human need for some amount of pleasure in life. Fine, I can accept that. That pleasure doesn't have to come through mindless activities like TV and drugs, though. What's wrong with the pleasure of a good conversation with a friend or looking at great art or walking through nature? What about the pleasure of doing good work or being kind to someone?
What if, you might ask, I don't like doing those things? What if the things I derive pleasure from are what you call mindless? My answer would be to change your preferences. Deny yourself superficial pleasures to build character and find deeper satisfaction. Or don't, but I think it's a good path.
I don't want more pleasure in my life. I have enough. I derive pleasure from sitting here and writing a blog post for you. I derive pleasure from eating my daily sardine sandwich. I derive pleasure from waiting in traffic.
There's a skill to be learned, and it's the ability to derive pleasure from everything. Don't do activities to seek pleasure, but rather derive pleasure from every activity you do.
So I work all the time. I derive pleasure from that. And if I do a good enough job at my work, hopefully others will get some pleasure and happiness from it.
Photo is the island at low tide. I know every picture is of the island these days, but it's all I've got that I haven't posted. I'll be in Chile later this week, so I'll try to get some new photos there.
I've really been thinking a lot about future vs. present, ever since reading The Time Paradox. Do you live every day like it's your last, do you save everything for the future, or do you find a happy medium?
One of the conclusions that I've come to, which might be blatantly obvious to everyone but me, is that time management should be exactly like money management. It's the same problem: how do you use a finite resource throughout your whole life for maximum benefit?
Thinking of time like money rules out the extreme ends of the spectrum. We all know what it looks like when someone spends every dollar they get as soon as it's dropped into their hands, and none of us envy that person (although some imitate him). Saving everything and never spending any money isn't that great of an idea, either. What's the point of having money if it gets buried next to you?
I see such an obsession with happiness these days. It's sad.
There's different sorts of happiness, but the one people seem after the most is the lowest, saddest form of happiness - a pleasurable mix of biochemicals.
Do you know how cocaine works? It's what's known as a triple-reuptake inhibitor. It makes some of the happiness chemicals - serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine - cycle out of your brain more slowly, giving you wonderful feelings.
And - so what? You've got more happiness chemicals in your brain so you bliss out? How could anyone in their right mind think this is the meaning of life?
I try to do things that I find meaningful, ideally on the largest scale I can. I'm not there yet, but I'm trying. I still need to get stronger in other areas, get more disciplined. But I'm working on it.