MIHALY CSIKSZENTMIHALYI has been doing
some fascinating research into creativity and enjoyment at the
University of Chicago for over thirty years now. He invented
a new way to study enjoyment. Its called the Experience
Basically, subjects are given a pager and
a booklet, and then they go about their normal lives. At random
intervals eight times each day, the pager goes off. The subjects
immediately stop what theyre doing and fill out the questionnaire
in the booklet.
Each questionnaire is identical. It asks
what theyre doing, where they are, and who theyre
with. Then it asks them to mark where they are on several scales
of experience, such as one to seven to indicate where they are
from happy to very sad.
After collecting over a hundred thousand
of these samples, Csikszentmihalyi had a huge fund of raw information.
He began to wonder, Are people happier when they use more
material resources in their leisure activities? Or are they happier
when they invest more of themselves? In other words his
question was, If I spend my day off going to a movie and
out to dinner (or using resources and electricity in some way),
will I have a more enjoyable day off than I would if I spent
the day gardening or reading or talking or doing something requiring
just my own effort?
Which is ultimately more enjoyable? Using
energy outside yourself, or using your own energy?
What would you guess? To answer the question,
Csikszentmihalyi and his colleagues went back through the data
and sorted each experience sample by the amount of energy being
used. They measured the material resources in units of energy
called BTUs (British Thermal Units, the energy it takes to raise
one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit) and sifted the data
in search of an answer.
What they found surprised everyone. The
fewer BTUs a person used in his leisure, the more
he enjoyed it. Those time-off activities like watching TV, driving,
boating, or anything that used electricity or expensive equipment
were less enjoyable than self-powered activities like
conversing with a friend, working on a hobby, training a dog,
or gardening. This goes against the prevailing notions of whats
enjoyable. Everybody knows it would be more fun cruising
on a yacht drinking margaritas than building a bookshelf in your
basement. Everybody knows it would be more fun to
go to the movies than it would to sit home and read a book. But
according to the research, thats not the case. Certainly
those high-BTU activities are easier and more immediately appealing.
But not more enjoyable.
When the pager went off and the participants
stopped and checked how much they were enjoying what they were
doing, they discovered something truly illuminating: The most
fun things dont cost much.
Is this true for you? Test it. On your
next two days off, do something that uses up material resources
the first day, and the next day, have a friend over and converse
or do something powered by your own energy. Youll see a
difference. The activity might not be as titillating at the moment,
but when your day is done, youll be more satisfied with
the self-powered day.
Do you want some first-class leisure? Find
an interest and pursue it. Turn off the TV and use your own energy.
You may be surprised to find it doesnt wear you out but
fully refreshes you.
This is extremely good news. Its
good for your pocketbook, its good for the planet, and
its good for your own enjoyment. Use more of your own
BTUs on your time off and the world will be a better place.
Use your own energy
during your leisure time.
Read more: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience