Reality Check: All Work and All Play

Think back to when you’ve had a really satisfying day. Perhaps it was yesterday! Or maybe you have to search your memory and go back years. No matter. Just think of a good, satisfying day that you’ve actually experienced—not one that you’ve imagined or wished for—but one that you’ve lived.

What made that day different from ordinary, less-satisfying days?

How about this? Is a satisfying day one where you realize, “I accomplished what I wanted to do. I finished something important to me. I’m making progress!”

Satisfying days are not necessarily those spent lounging around doing nothing. Sure, it’s great to have those days—occasionally.

However, how satisfying would life be if it was just day after day of self-indulgence? Doing nothing, learning nothing, creating nothing?

Now, I’m assuming that you haven’t won a big lottery lately, so a life of complete leisure probably isn’t something that you (or I) have to guard against. However, especially if you’re time-stressed, you might think, “If only I had nothing to do, then I would be happy!”

“Becoming Adult” is a book referenced by Dr. Joel Wade that offers an answer as to why some teenagers grow up to be happy and successful whereas others grow up to be unhappy and disengaged.

Dr. Wade says, “Teenagers are happiest when their activities include both work and play. They are least happy when their activities include neither.” Teenagers who have learned to focus—who spend time working hard and playing hard—end up being happier, more successful adults.

First, what does he mean by work? And play?

Interestingly, the difference is simply that play refers to activities that are enjoyable at the time, whereas work may or may not be enjoyable at the time, but it builds skills or resources for enjoyment in the future.

For example, developing your cooking skills might be work or it might be play, depending on how much you enjoy it at the time. Either way, it does provide the opportunity to focus and if you practice, you will build skills to enjoy in the future!

You’ll notice that from this perspective, money and employment have nothing to do with the difference between work and play. But both involve focusing and sticking with productive activities that offer the opportunity to get absorbed. There’s an element of challenge and the possibility of improvement.

Both work and play can help you toward happiness.

If you are not working and not playing, what are you doing? Well, you might be “doing nothing.” Perhaps that’s hanging out with friends, playing video games (everything that involves the word “play” doesn’t count as “play” in this context,) perhaps watching TV, browsing facebook, or wandering around the mall.

“Wasting” time has its place. For example, hanging out with friends can be relationship-building. Or not.

However, the amount of time spent on absorbing activities makes a difference, and that difference is connected to your own level of happiness.

So, while “all work makes Jack a dull boy” (or Jill a dull girl) “no work” is hardly the answer! Without work and/or play that’s challenging and absorbing, we become less interesting and perhaps a little less happy.

If you are no longer a teenager, what then? It really is never too late. Try choosing an activity you can get absorbed in. See how that works for you. And let me know

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