I get distracted and I’m always looking to improve my ability to avoid distraction. For me it boils down to good and OK things pushing things of excellence out of the way. When I’m doing something good, I find myself content and my analytical circuits let down their guard.
What happens next? While journaling or reflecting back on my day/week/month, I discover that there was some excellent work, relation building, creation was left out and replace with stuff that was just OK or good.
I am currently reading Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (affiliate link). It is really making me think about happiness, value, fun, relevance, significance, joy and more. As I think about that I am challenged by American society and my own kids.
Story From Home
Just this morning at breakfast I asked two of them “What is happiness and fun? Is there a difference?”
We have a beautiful and horrible staggered school start schedule so we have 3 different breakfast times with our school age kids.
One responded, “Hmm, idunno.” I encouraged and re-positioned but couldn’t get any more insight than that. The second was much more rewarding and I wish I could remember the words exactly because they were superb, thoughtful, and simple enough anyone could understand.
The first response came as “Yes, they’re not the same.”
To which I dug, “How are they different?”
Wait for it. . . “Fun is like doing something an activity.” Beautiful 12 year old wisdom!
“Wow. What about happiness?”
“Happiness is like feelings and stuff like that.” Spectacular!
Our dialogue continued with a discussion of happiness during different portions of her life and comparing those times with the current time and judging relative happiness. With that in hand, I took the definition of fun => “being doing something like an activity” separate from the word to inquire about what were you doing during those times of your life where you were happier. I think I planted some seeds only time will tell.
Connecting the Story to Avoiding Mediocre or Worse
“Great story Brian, I’m glad your kid can separate activities from their feelings why do we care?”
I’m glad you asked. I have discovered that “fun” most often falls into the category of OK things to do. Reading Deep Work this morning I read that people find more satisfaction and value from work than they do from free time. Here’s the quote from Csikszentmihalyi’s ESM studies:
Ironically, jobs are actually easier to enjoy than free time, because like flow activities they have built-in goals, feedback rules, and challenges, all of which encourage one to become involved in one’s work, to concentrate and lose oneself in it. Free time, on the other hand, is unstructured and requires much greater effort to be shaped into something that can be enjoyed.
A “flow activity” is something that has a process or set of steps, goals or incremental outcomes. Things like making the sale, writing a computer program, or building furniture all of which contribute to a business and making a living. On the personal side flow activity shows up as connecting with children and friends thus producing stronger relationships. One of the worst “flow activities” of this generation falls into the OK or even bad things to do list: VIDEO GAMES. We restrict our children’s “screen time” to help with this. My son argued when this happened and every once in a while since that reading books are the same as video games. In a way he is right but I’d rather have his mind change words to images, people and stories.
Both of these activities (reading and video games) and many others fall into the category of “not important” and “not urgent” as we discussed previously in Budgeting Time With Importance and Mindfulness. These fourth quadrant activities can be fun and effective for taking a break, for changing pace, for transitioning. Their danger lies in using them as an escape. Using them in excess. When we escape using unimportant and not urgent activities we find less happiness, peace, and joy when we return to the real world. Sure it was fun on the journey but fun in excess, fun as an escape, fun resulting in isolation results in less and less satisfaction, meaning, and life happiness.
Do You Want to Have Fun or Be Content and Happy?
Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.
I want to be happy, to live a life of significance and meaning. I do this first by choosing to be content, content with less, content where I am. To know where I am, I use my family, friends, and masterminds to speak truth into my life. Once content, happiness increases exponentially. Next, I choose what to focus on. As I look at my life there are some tough things, some awesome things, and a bunch in the middle. I don’t know why but it seems human nature steers us to focus on the bad, tough, sad things. To avoid this remember what I said, “I choose what to focus on.” I need to use my soul and spirit to separate from myself and look at little human Brian down here living life and focusing on the negative. I need to be able to separate my thinking from within myself to see what I’m doing, thinking, saying, how I’m acting. When I choose to remain within myself I can’t see other options for doing, thinking, saying nor acting. Once I imagine floating above me with a joystick (controller for the modern generation) that controls me, I can see other options, better directions, and a greater life of meaning.
Try it out and let me know how it goes for you and find yourself spending more time in your life on important but not urgent things. Fun is good and OK but pursuit of significance and meaning is excellent and provides more peace, joy and happiness.