Getting Engaged

I couldn’t believe that it was already time for dinner. Despite the fact that it was almost one hundred degrees in my RV, the kind of heat that ensures that my shirt is permanently damp, the time had flown by. Four hours had passed since I last consciously checked the time.Still, as hungry as I was, I didn’t want to shut the lid on my computer. I sat back and looked at my work. I’d been so entranced by the details of it that I hadn’t yet taken a second to see how everything had come together.

I felt amazing. But more than just feeling good, I felt that deep sense of warm satisfaction that few things besides achievement can create. I had spent the past hours fully engaged in the moment, challenging myself and creating something. I could sleep with the knowledge that the day had been used well. I knew that the next morning I’d wake up, remember how much progress I had mode, and could use that momentum to forge ahead.

A few weeks ago I saw Star Trek in the movie theater. I’m not a huge Star Trek fan, and in fact have never actually seen an episode, but I liked the movie. I wasn’t bored once, which is a rare movie-going experience for me. I had fun.

The problem, though, is that the fun is fleeting. As soon as I step out of the theater, I may as well have never seen the movie. Remove the excitement and stimulation of the movie, and all of a sudden there’s a void to be filled.

“What should we do?”

The answers that come to mind tend to be quick fixes, just as the movie was. Easy come, easy go.

That’s just an afternoon, but a lot of people live their lives in a constant state of chasing quick “highs” of fun. Junk Food -> Movie -> Alcohol -> Drugs -> Sex -> Shopping -> Video Games -> TV -> Trash Internet Sites -> Porn..

I’m not saying that all of these things are terrible (some can be great, most can be worthwhile occasionally), but I am saying that if you fill your life primarily with things from this category, you probably won’t ever be a happy person. You’ll have fun and you’ll have happy times, but you won’t BE happy.

What’s more fun? Manual labor or watching TV? TV. Who’s happier at the end of the day: a guy who spent twelve hours restoring his Mustang or a guy who sat on the couch and watched TV all day?

I have a theory that the amount of satisfaction you’ll derive from an activity is directly proportional to how engaged in it you are. One year I got back to my dorm on the Sunday after Christmas break. For no real good reason I broke into the mailroom. I used to (and still might) have an obsession with being places I shouldn’t be. Not to steal or vandalize, but just to see if I can get in and to see behind the scenes.

Inside the mailroom were boxes and boxes of mail that had accumulated over the holidays. My friend and I, for no reason at all, sorted the mail ourselves. It took over four hours, but the time flew. We tried to memorize people’s mailbox numbers, played games to see how fast we could sort the mail, and laughed thinking about what the mail person’s reaction might be. It was a boring job, for sure, but we had a great time doing it.

So what does this all mean? Don’t spend your time in activities that are structured to avoid boredom.

If your goal is to avoid boredom, you’ll achieve it, but that’s all you’ll get. It’s better to spend your time in activities that engage you. If you’re in an activity that doesn’t engage you, drop it or figure out a way to make it engaging.

A good example? There was a Wendy’s on campus with an Indian cashier who took his job seriously. Very seriously. He took pride in being the fastest cashier anyone had ever seen, fully focusing on you as you ordered, slamming the order keys the split second you uttered enough syllables to narrow down exactly what you wanted. He was happy. He was engaged.

P.S. The picture at the top is a Panamanian cowboy we made friends with. If anyone was ever engaged in horse training / riding, it’s him.

P.P.S. The title was mainly chosen to freak Annie out. Haha!


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