When asked for what brings them the most pleasure, people tend to mention the times when they get to relax. Just lying on the couch, maybe watching a movie, not having to struggle and accomplish and perform. We live in such hectic times that we all need occasional breaks from our daily tasks. And who doesn’t love to be on a break, right?
What’s more fun, work or leisure?
But does this time of leisure really bring the pleasure we assume to get out of it? Surprisingly, we tend to overstate the joy that we get from these times of passiveness. We think that we like to chill, but in reality we quite like work, we like to be challenged. This is described in the book “Flow” by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, who did extensive research on happiness. By repeatedly asking his subject group to rate their happiness in work and leisure time situations, Csíkszentmihályi found out that people consistently are happier during work.
How we make our leisure time suck
This seems quite counter-intuitive at first, right? Happier during work? Most people wouldn’t agree with that. The reason for these surprising results is that we have a tendency to not know and therefore not do what makes us the happiest.
We actually enjoy challenging ourselves. We love facing a problem and overcoming it. We gain pleasure when we improve our skills. And yet, we are so bad at incorporating these elements into our leisure time. We choose to pursue mind-numbing tasks instead, put our brain on auto-pilot, want to put as little energy into our free time as possible and then call it “chilling”. The result is a constantly lingering dissatisfaction.
Turn leisure into pleasure! Include elements of work!
Thankfully, I am generalising and overdramatising here. Of course not all people are unhappy during their leisure time. Many people engage in hobbies, do sports, learn new skills, socialise with their loved ones and as a result gain a ton of happiness from these activities!
The difference? They are actually active! Leisure time that brings true happiness incorporates elements that are challenging, daunting even, and forces you a bit out of your comfort zone. It makes you try new things, explore and learn, and pushes you to actively work towards a goal. And as you might have noticed, all these elements are elements that are usually found in work environments. Work gives us the opportunity to see what we are capable of and to improve. It puts us right in the sweet spot where our skills match our challenges, something that Csíkszentmihályi calls “flow”. There are few things that create a deeper and more genuine feeling of happiness than reaching flow.
Leisure time can be extremely pleasurable, but it can also be dull and even frustrating. The choice is entirely yours, since you get to decide how you spend your leisure time. If you choose to be passive and try to numb yourself, for example by watching tv, you won’t enjoy your time very much. If on the other hand you engage in challenging tasks, you will be rewarded with moments of happiness and a feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day.