Monday, September 19, 2005

Fun as Self-Actualization?

Worthwhile Thought:
"The key to a happy life is to accomplish things that you really feel like are good for somebody beyond just you. Nothing else will do it. A lot of people think happiness is about lots of time to play. I was a manic kayaker for a long time. And there were some people who just managed to arrange their whole life around kayaking and of course, we were all insanely jealous. But then, with the benefit of hindsight, that choice doesn't work out so great and I think it is because it's all about you. OK, maybe you like kayaking, but what are you going to be proud of at the end of the day? You may pass the time more or less pleasantly, but you're not going to feel too good about it. The same thing is true with getting rich." -- Green developer and Mindspring Founder Charles Brewer, interviewed in the Premiere issue of Worthwhile magazine
You could substitute "mountain biker" or "snowboarder" for kayaker and this would apply to me more directly. You could substitute your favourite leisure activity to make it personal, and I'm sure we all know people who are HARDCORE into the things we enjoy, perhaps even inspiring the same kind of jealousy he talks about. I've always included these types of pursuits as part of self-actualization, but are they really? Maybe if you're training to achieve professional status? I've occasionally blamed parenthood for forcing me out of my hardcore leisure focus, but I wonder if I would have tired of it eventually if we hadn't had kids.

It seems now that mountain biking is less an identity thing for me now, and more about how it contributes to the rest of my life: health benefits, appreciation of the environment and my community, and the social aspects. I'm a happier person and I accomplish more in the rest of my life when I ride twice a week, but I don't think I'd be happier and more productive if I rode five times a week.

What about you?


shamash said...

To make the world a better place (or, as Gandhi put it, to "be the change you wish to see in the world"), I think there needs to be a healthy balance between doing those things we enjoy and serving others. There's nothing worse than a burnt-out, bitter person whose soul aim is to "serve humanity, gosh darn it, no matter what." On the other hand, hedonists who are out for only pleasure can be killjoys, too.

So, as the wise ones tell us: everything in moderation. Sometimes, the best thing we can do for the world is to go do something we love. We'll come back with more energy to reach out and serve others: "seva"- selfless service.

Garth said...

Balance definitely is key! I get to ride my mtn bike about once a week which is pretty good considering I'm a prof. Would I be happier if I could bike more - YES! Would my family be happier? Maybe if they joined me.

Play is definitely a necessary component to our lives pursuits. Can we go to far with play - I suppose it may boil down to semantics. For me to be effective at leisure, work, or even self-understanding requires a healthy dose of a playful attitude. Without it - we lead lives as drones in a hive or how Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins fame aptly describes it as rats in a cage!

BTW - I had a stellar ride today thanks to the discovery of some new singletrack through some amazing red pine valleys and ridges.

Jeremy said...

Thank you both for your wise comments...this is good stuff, and I agree with all of it.

Balance is key -- what I didn't properly articulate was that the TOTAL fun focus can become a problem. If you work at a job you hate only because it lets you snowboard 70 days a year, that arrangement probably won't be sustainable...aside from the damage done by hateful toil, most people do eventually get too much of a good thing.

My friend Evan is a hardcore recreation guy, and he got around this issue by switching passions every few years. So for four or five years, he spent all of his disposable income and time on windsurfing/surfing, then switched to downhill mountain biking for several seasons, then went hardcore into kiteboarding for a few years. He'd go all the way with each sport -- the best equipment, moving to hotbed locations, multi-month trips to pursue the passion of the time.

Us conventional folks with full-time jobs who enjoyed dabbling in these sports looked at him with almost complete envy and amazement. What a lifestyle! I guess he proved that it was sustainable, but is it meaningful? Does it have a positive impact on the world or the people around him? I doubt that he looks back on his last dozen years of hedonistic levels of fun and wonders if he should have chosen a more "productive" path.

Jeremy said...

Mark extends the conversation over at his blog...