Self-actualized and creative people.

Noel Coward

"Chose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life." Confucius

"I never did a day's work in my life. It was all fun." Thomas Edison

"It is well with me only when I have a chisel in my hand." Michelangelo

"The reward for work well done is the opportunity to do more." Dr. Jonas Salk

"The man who does not work for the love of work but only for money is not likely to make much money nor find much fun in life." Charles M. Schwab

All self-actualized people love their work, for them work and play are identical. Self-actualizers love work because, this work, is the most important and enjoyable thing in their life. For them, work and play are the same. They see no difference, and for them there is no difference. They do what they want to do and enjoy it, nearly all the time. Abraham Maslow put it like this in "The Farther Reaches of Human Nature".

"For instance, it is quite obvious with such people that the ordinary or conventional dichotomy between work and play is transcended totally. That is, there is certainly no distinction between work and play in such a person in such a situation. His work is his play and his play is his work. If a person loves his work and enjoys it more than any other activity in the whole world and is eager to get to it, to get back to it after any interruption, then how can we speak about 'labor' in the sense of something one is forced to do against one's wishes?"

"What sense for instance, is left of the concept 'vacation'? For such individuals it is often observed that during their vacations, that is, during the periods in which they are totally free to choose whatever they wish to do and in which they have no external obligations to anyone else, that it is precisely in such periods that they devote themselves happily and totally to their 'work'. Or, what does it mean 'to have some fun,' to seek amusement? What now is the meaning of the word 'entertainment'? How does such a person 'rest'? What are his 'duties,' "responsibilities, obligations? What is his 'hobby'?

"What meaning does money or pay or salary have in such a situation? Obviously the most beautiful fate, the most wonderful good fortune that can happen to a human being, is to be paid for doing that which he passionately loves to do. This exactly the situation or almost the situation with many (most?) of my subjects."

All self-actualized people are creative, but not all creative people are self-actualized. Creative people also love their work. Ordinary creative people and self-actualized people have many traits and attributes in common, but in this one thing the are essentially identical. Creative people and self-actualized people are doing the one thing in life that they were meant to do by virtue of the potentials they were born with. This in turn is the most enjoyable thing they can possibly imagine doing. The main difference is that ordinary creative people do not understand this as well as the self-actualized people and can talk about the things that they do as sometimes being work and sometimes being play. They sometimes somehow manage to divorce some parts of what they do from other parts of what they do.

"The more I want to get something done, the less I call it work." Richard Bach

Ordinary people. Ordinary people because of their orientation tend to, if they grasp this idea at all, get it backwards. They seem to think that self-actualized people and creative people must only do those parts of things that are enjoyable and not do those parts of things that are unpleasant. But the fact is that everything that self-actualized people do is enjoyable because everything is associated with the parts that are enjoyable. In fact self-actualized people do not perceive their actions as broken up into parts at all, but rather as whole sequences which are wholly enjoyable. Abraham Maslow was greatly confounded by students and assistants who managed to misunderstand in this idea, as he reports in "The Farther Reaches of Human Nature".

"In simple terms of time, bright ideas really take up a small proportion of our time. Most of our time is spent on hard work." [This may not seem like hard work to self-actualized people but it would certainly seem like it to non-creative people.] "It may be that these dead cats have been brought to my door more because my students so frequently identify with me, because I have written about peak experiences and inspirations and so on, that they feel that this the only way to live. Life without daily or hourly peak experiences, that's no life, so that they can't do work that is boring".

"Some student tells me, 'No, I don't want to do that because I don't enjoy it,' and then I get purple in the face and fly up in a rage - 'Damn it, you do it , or I'll fire you' - and he thinks I am betraying my own principles. I think also that in making a more measured and balanced picture of creativeness, we workers with creativity have to be responsible for the impressions we make on other people. Apparently one impression that we are making on them is that creativeness consists of lightning striking you on the head in one great glorious moment. The fact that the people who create are also good workers tends to be lost."

Obsession. Self actualized people are not only good workers, they are obsessed with their work. They are so intently concentrating on their goal, that the joy they experience in some parts of their work, is quickly associated with all parts of their work. In this way, joy pervades everything they do and every action they perform in their work gives them immense pleasure. Their work becomes a pleasurable obsession. Self actualized people do not pick and choose the bits of their work that they like to do, rather the bits that they initially dislike doing speedily become bits that they enjoy doing, because they are a part of something that is wholly enjoyable. Self actualized people work with joy and are thus happy, the way we all should be.  

"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." Thomas Edison

"When work is a pleasure, life is joy! When work is a duty, life is slavery." Maxim Gorky

Work is a four letter word.

For the rest of us, who are not creative or self-actualized, work and play are two very different things. Work is something you have to do that is unpleasant, while play is something you want to do but is irresponsible, time wasting and childish. We tend to see things this way because of certain cultural pressures which have their origins in the early interpretation of the Christian religion. The most important of these pressures is the Puritan doctrine of opposites and its derivative the 'Protestant Work Ethic'.

"Nothing is work unless you'd rather be doing something else." George Halas

The separation of agreeable and disagreeable bit of life. How we understand, talk and think about the things that we do, creates our way of life and whether we will be happy or miserable in it. Many people fragment the things that they do into agreeable and disagreeable parts, In his book "Freedom and Beyond" John Holt explains that these people tend to say something like as follows:

"But to do anything interesting and worthwhile he is going to have to do a lot of plain, old disagreeable hard work. If he's never been made to do anything he didn't like, how is he going to be able to do the hard work and stick to it until it is done?"

This idea is not only very wrong, but it is also very dangerous, as it blocks and destroys the formation of creative and self-actuated people, who are the vital force that maintains society. But perhaps more important to the average person, it makes life unpleasant when there is no reason for life to be unpleasant. After all, there is enough unpleasantness in the world, without feeling that there is no pleasure in work or doing things well. John Holt goes on to say:

"Now I don't deny for a second that much of the work done in the world is disagreeable and hard. But that is not what these people are saying. They say that to do anything takes Disagreeable Hard Work, that all work is Disagreeable Hard Work."

"In those three words is a whole way of life and of looking at life, very widespread, very deeply rooted, and very wrong. First, the old Puritan split and opposites between work and play. Work is what you don't like, but you do it because you have to, or someone makes you, and so it is good for you. Play is what you do like, but it is bad for you, because you like it. Beneath that there is a still deeper and more destructive splitting, a splitting up in the name of logic or reason or analysis, of our whole lives and indeed the whole of human experience into tiny and disconnected fragments."

Fragmentation. How we understand, talk and think about the things, that we do, that give us pleasure, can be fragmented into agreeable and disagreeable parts, thus loosing their unity as a whole accomplishment. John Holt give a very clear example of this kind of fragmentation (one that bought this concept home to him) in his book in his book "Freedom and Beyond".

"At one point a girl said that one of the things she did was to make candles, but that the only part of this that she really liked was taking the finished product out of the mould - everything else leading up to this final step seemed only time-wasting dull drudgery. In other words, Disagreeable Hard Work.' I said, 'But why do you divide up your mind, in this strange way, your experience of making candles? I should think it would be more natural to see the experience as one whole, and that if you like making candles, everything that you have to do to make them is part of the experience, and therefore entitled to a share in the pleasure of it.' It was hard for her to understand me, trained as she was, not only by her upbringing and schooling, full of Disagreeable Hard Work, but also by the habits of Western language and thought. She has spent too many of her not very many years learning to believe that all life is divided into pleasures and pain, and that in general the pain must far outweigh the pleasure."

The Wholeness of Accomplishment.

The pleasure of doing something well or gradually achieving mastery. John Holt talks about a need for understanding that there is a unity in all actions performed as part of a creative outcome, or that have a favorable or pleasurable outcome. This feeling of accomplishment belongs to every action performed that resulted in the outcome. Accomplishment is the whole thing not just the result. In his book "Freedom & Beyond" he tells this story about his experience playing the cello.

"I worked very hard on the cello for two years or so, practicing or playing as much as six hours a day. I could not practice at home, so I worked out a deal with the Commonwealth School - I would coach their soccer team, and they would let me practice in the building, in the morning before classes and in the evening after the end of school. So during those two years, it was my regular custom to get up at about four or four-thirty in the morning get dressed, pack up cello, music and music stand, and walk to the school, open the building, find an empty room, set up stand and music and start to practice, When the building began to fill up, around eight o'clock, I would pack up, returning again the evening, if I was not playing with a group. My friends were baffled by this regime. They didn't know whether to call it work or play. It didn't seem to be work, because nobody was making me do it or paying me for it, and there was no other kind of reward or benefit I would get from it. At the same time, they couldn't think of it as play - how can anyone call 'play' getting up at four and walking through dark winter streets just to practice for three hours. They explained everything with awed remarks about my will power. This missed the point."

"I suppose one might give the name 'will power' to whatever it was that got me up at that hour on those winter mornings to do what nobody was compelling me to do. But this suggests that inside of me there are two people, one of them a lazy, good-for-nothing lying in the bed, enjoying the warmth and wanting to stay there and the other a stern taskmaster saying, 'Get up you no-good bum, get out of bed and go practice the cello,' and finally winning the argument because he was the stronger. But there are not two people inside me, only one. The fact was that I loved to play the cello. I don't just mean that I wanted to very much someday to play it well, though I wanted that too. I mean I loved playing it as I played it, a struggling beginner. I loved the scales, the exercises, the feeling of strength, skill, accuracy quickness gradually coming into my hands and fingers, the sounds I could get from the instrument. Many other things in my life have given great pleasure, but nothing more than those hours of early morning practice. I wanted to play the cello and since the only time I could play it was early in the morning, that was when I had to get up in order to play it."

Demons and Angels on my shoulder.

Splitting the self. The concept of will power is very much a part of the of our religious heritage. It draws on the Puritan split and opposites of good and bad. What is good is hard and unpleasant and it is good because it is hard and unpleasant. What is bad is easy and pleasant and it is bad because it is easy and pleasant. Will power then is what enables us to do what is hard and unpleasant and what enables us not to do what is easy and pleasant. But as John Holt explained above this presupposes that inside of people there are two selves one of them bad or wicked looking to do the easy pleasant thing and one of them good a stern taskmaster determined to do what is hard and unpleasant because that is what is good. The symbols we use to express this idea makes this religious origin completely transparent as it is usually symbolized by an angel whispering in one ear while a demon whispers in the other. In his book "Freedom and Beyond" John Holt further enlightens us about will power:

"One more word on will power. Perhaps an exaggerated and ridiculous example will show what's wrong with always dividing experience into Cause and Effect, Ends and Means, Skills and Acts, Getting Ready and Doing It. Suppose I am thirsty. Do I tell myself that I must take the trouble, use will power to force myself to go to the cupboard, then open the door, then take out a glass, then go to the faucet, the fill the glass, then raise the glass to my lips - go through all this Disagreeable Hard Work so that I may then have the pleasure of feeling the cool water in my mouth and going down my throat? Its ridiculous. If I am thirsty, and there is anything to drink, I take a drink, which means I do all the things I need to do to get the drink. I don't have to use will power to do them; they are part of the act of getting the drink. Does it take will power to get in bed when we are sleepy?"

"Babies have more sense than we do about this. No one could explain to a baby, even if he had the words, what we mean by will power. Babies live their lives all of a piece. Imagine a baby on the floor, playing or exploring. He sees a toy or ball or bear on the floor at the other side of the room, and the feeling or thought comes to him that he wants to play with it. Does there then arise a little conflict inside the baby over whether it is worth the trouble to crawl all the way across the room just so he may then seize the toy? No. To want the toy is to want to do whatever must be done to get it Instantly the baby sets out across the floor, probably already feeling some of the excitement and pleasure of playing with it. His play with it begins when he thinks of playing with it and begins to move toward it."

Bad me, good me. This idea of the good me and the bad me is wrong. We are not two people. Each of us is only one person. In life we make choices. Sometimes we choose instantly without thought, and sometimes when it is less clear to us what we want to do, we may carry on an inner dialog with ourselves, presenting ourselves with the options. This not done in the form of an argument about good and bad, but is rather a clarifying process to enable us to see more clearly what we really want to do. These options may carry no values of good or bad, but even when they do, what we will do is determined, not by arguments, but by our discovery of what it is we really want to do, which in turn is governed by our understanding of what will give us the greatest amount of pleasure. Understanding is the key. If we understand actions as the whole of a chain, the pleasure or pain the outcome of these actions, pervades the whole chain of events enabling it to be seen as wholly pleasurable or wholly painful. If on the other hand we divide up the chain of events into its component links, we become unconnected with the future and the wholeness of life and actions, stranding us in the immediate present.

Dr. Freud. Although the concept of a conscience has been around for a long time it was Sigmund Freud who first crystallized this conception of more than one self giving it greater form and acceptability. Freud's psychological constructs of the superego, ego and id, enabled the further splitting up of the self into 3 selves corresponding to these psychological constructs. Here Freud simply took the idea of demons and angels and made them part of our inner self causing it to become seen as our inner selves.

Dr. Berne. The idea was reintroduced, yet again, by Eric Berne in his transactional analysis, where yet again the self is accredited as being three separate selves the parent, the adult and the child. However enlightened and useful Berne's ideas may be, this central concept of his continues to plague us with this splitting or atomizing of events, actions and the self, which muddles our understanding of the wholeness of events, actions and the self.

"Work is either fun or drudgery. It depends on your attitude." I like fun. Colleen C. Barrett

Drudgery or Vitality?

Is life pain, misery and drudgery? Some people feel that life is just that. They not only believe that life is pain, misery and drudgery, but that it is the way things should be. Their life is miserable and they want everyone to share in that misery. The old saying is that 'misery loves company' and that this is true is beyond doubt. For these people, anyone who is enjoying their life is a source of threat. Tyrants and petty tyrants are everywhere in the world, and they see their lot in life as bringing others down, and making them subservient to themselves. It is in their interest to also promote this doom and gloom. It was undoubtedly their propaganda that originally provided the climate for this to grow. But now they need do little as the downtrodden and defeated seem to carry it on by themselves.

If the downtrodden become parents they tend to place their children in a situation of self-fulfilling prophesy. They make sure that their children's lives are miserable, and the schools and other institutions, in which they place their children, prepare them for a life of more misery. Not only that, but they inculcate their children with ideas that not only is this their lot in life, but that this how things should be, and that anyone enjoying life is vile and needs to be made to suffer. Thus a cycle is perpetuated, where each generation creates a new crop of such people in the following generation. Unfortunately others tend to become, often unwitting, accomplices of such people, mouthing much of their rhetoric. But even as they mouth this rhetoric, they do not fully understanding its full implications.

John Holt in his book "How Children Fail" gives an example of one such parent.

"One mother said to me not long ago 'I think you are making a mistake in trying to make schoolwork so interesting for the children. After all they are going to have to spend most of their lives doing things they don't like, and they might as well get used to it now."

This both morally and scientifically wrong. The thing is, it has been shown in numerous studies that people who best survive adversity and make the best of whatever situation they are in are not the people who have gotten used to adversity, but rather those who have had pleasure in their lives. Those who survived best in the concentration camps, were people who had lived good and pleasurable lives before.

"Every so often the curtain of slogans and platitudes behind which most people live opens up for a second, and you get a glimpse of what they really think. This not the first time a parent has said this to me, but it horrifies me as much as ever. What an extraordinary view of life, from one of the most favored citizens of one of the most favored of all nations! Is life nothing but drudgery, an endless list of dreary duties? Is education nothing but the process of getting children ready to do them? It was as if she had said, 'My boy is going to have to spend his life as a slave, so I want you to get him used to the idea, and see to it that when he gets to be a slave, he will be a dutiful and diligent and well paid one.'"

"It's easy to see how an adult, in a discouraged moment, hemmed in by seemingly pointless and petty duties and responsibilities, might think of life as a kind of slavery. But one would expect that people feeling this way about their own lives would want something better for their children, would say in effect, 'I have somehow missed the chance to put much joy and meaning into my own life; please educate my children so that they will do better."

Laziness. Many people believe that children will not learn anything unless they are forced to. Such people believe that children are basically lazy and not interested in anything important. They see discipline as a force acting on children to force them to do things, which they the adults believe is good for the children. At no time do such people take the trouble to investigate these ideas to see if there is any truth in them. It has however been proven beyond doubt that children are not lazy, they are interested in important things, and they will learn without any need for force to be applied to them if they are allowed to do so from the beginning. Even when they are damaged, by having been forced to do things over a long period of time, they will still gradually heal themselves if left to their own devices. John Holt in his book "How Children Fail" explains further about the mother referred to above.

"This woman is attractive, intelligent, fond of her son, and interested in him. Yet she shares with many parents and teachers a belief about her child and children in general which is both profoundly disrespectful and untrue. It is that they never do anything and never will do anything 'worthwhile' unless some adult makes them do it. All this woman's stories about herself and her boy have the same plot; at first he doesn't want to do something; then, she makes him do it; finally, he does it well, and maybe even enjoys it. She never tells me stories about things that her boy does well without being made to, and she seems uninterested and even irritated when I tell her such stories. The only triumphs of his that she savors are those for which she can give herself most of the credit."

This sounds suspiciously like a stage mother where the adult is living her life through their child and the child is enabling them to succeed where they could not in their own lives.

The Vitality of Curiosity and Interest. Learning is both work and play. It is just a matter of how we view it, that decides whether we view it as work or play or even more unusually as both. This site begs parents and teachers, to at least consider, allowing and encouraging the retention of the vital capacity for interest and curiosity that children are born with. These capacities provide the antithesis to drudgery and misery, and allow children to escape this dark blot on their life, and perhaps enable them to discover a life of happiness and pleasure. Parents and teachers have the ability, to provide a life of happiness for their charges, that perhaps those parents and teachers could not find for themselves.

How to do it. The most important way parents and teachers can help with this, is by reinforcing children's belief that they can do things, change and improve, that they are not fixed to any intelligence level nor have any set abilities that cannot be improved. Teachers and parents can facilitate children in believing they can always become better at anything, and that they can do this by learning, by making an effort and by allowing themselves time to do so. In other words parents and teachers should try to encourage a growth mindset.

The growth mindset. To help children form a 'growth mindset', what is needed, is to draw attention to change and to how change can and should be for the better. You can tell children they need to work if they are to get anywhere in life until you are blue in the face and it will make little impression on them. Telling people that they have to or need to only invites resistance. Telling people they can change if they work hard will not help either. The only thing that really works, is to make them aware of their own improvement, and how that relates to the amount of effort they have put in. Children need to be aware of the changes taking place in themselves as they are happening.

The problem is that when we learn something, it seems part of us, as if we have always known it. It requires considerable self awareness to understand that the person we were even a few minutes ago is not quite what we are now. Parents and teachers are in prime positions to influence this awareness of change in the self. Parents and teachers can do this by drawing children's attention to how much more they know than they did previously. Parents and teachers can show children almost conclusive proof, that they worked at something, and have thus improved at it. It may take longer, and involve more work than the child would initially hope, but it works. It is just a matter of keeping uppermost in children's minds how much effort they are putting in, and how much improvement they are making. Obviously, it also helps to set tasks and if unavoidable tests, so that, they provide as much information or feedback about improvement as is possible. Also, making children aware of the struggles and doubts of those who have made the discoveries they are learning about, will help in this also.    

Hobbies. Apart from developing this kind of growth environment and by facilitating a growth mind set in each child, it is mostly a matter of trusting in their need to learn plus the emergence of their capacities, and encouraging those capacities as they make an appearance. The worst thing parents and teachers can do is to try and force children to be interested in some area of leaning like piano lessons. Pushing children can lead to resistance and even mental blockages. Many of the interests that children form naturally may, initially at least, take the form of a hobby. Hobbies have been well known to be more instructive and provide more real learning than anything taught at school. This is because hobbies are the flourishing of curiosity and interest. Hobbies always supply pleasure, happiness and an ever widening collection of interests. John Holt in his various books provides many examples of how hobbies can provide the basis for satisfying curiosity, accumulating interests, and not only learning about those interests, but may even provide interests leading back to learning school type knowledge that could not be learned at school.

Here are some examples from John Holt's "Freedom and Beyond".

"Anyone who has known many children growing up knows that many of them, even though they may not have much time of their own after school and schoolwork, throw themselves with great energy and discipline into very demanding kinds of work, often much harder than the work they can't or don't do in school, often involving the very 'skills' that the school says they don't have and can't learn. Several come to mind."

"There was a boy who, when in the third grade or fourth grade, became interested in baking, and came home from school where he was failing Arithmetic, to bake very complicated recipes from an advanced and difficult cookbook, recipes which he had to divide, since he was baking only for himself and his mother, and not for the six or eight persons specified. There was a girl, a very unsuccessful student, who in her own time took up printing, which requires much mathematical calculation, and became so good at it that before long, out of her bedroom, she was running a commercial printing business from which she earned enough to pay for new equipment with money left over. There was another girl, a phenomenally unsuccessful student, who became an expert photographer, developing, enlarging, printing her own work, all of which requires much measurement and calculation."

"Some of my students at Berkeley, teaching ghetto kids in the Oakland schools, told me that there was an epidemic of out-of-school reading among all the high school non readers, set off by a sudden supply of really far-out pornographic paperbound books."

Here is an example from John Holt's "Escape from Childhood".

"Esquire magazine, a few years ago, devoted an issue to what is called the 'micro boppers' - its own word for people younger than 'teeny boppers' (people in their mid teens) - who were then much in the news. There were a number of articles about the supposed precocity of young people under twelve. One told of a radio station run almost entirely by people under twelve. The station was connected with a local school, and the rule was that whenever someone working in the station passed the age of twelve he had to move out to make room for someone younger. According to the article, they prepared and broadcast a wide range of program materials, and at a high level of competence."

The Protestant Work Ethic. The Protestant Work Ethic (often called the Puritan Ethic) provides a stable constant for western culture. This idea, which was first consolidated into a coherent form by the sociologist Max Weber, enables western culture to work by making people feel the need to work and to feel useless when they are not working. This has the unfortunate effect of devaluing the idea that people might work for the pleasure of it. There are, also, some other aspects of the Protestant Ethic that are a strange mingling of values that permeate and subtly undermine and corrupt our culture. Harold G. Shane and June Grant Shane had this to say about the Protestant Ethic:

"At least some Americans have long been persuaded that unpleasant or hard school tasks had some disciplinary value. They 'helped make a man of you'. Long, cold winter walks to school, penalties for being tardy, bell regulated schedules, busywork that 'kept idle hands from becoming the Devil's Workshop' and arduous, drill type homework were some of the educational expressions of the Protestant Ethic."

The Hard Trial. Deep down we all believe that overcoming adversity or going through a tragedy can make us stronger and better people. It is part of the 'Protestant Ethic' for us to believe this and it may even be true. Where the Protestant Ethic goes wrong is, it assumes that any kind of calamity that happens to us must be good for us. By extension, advocates see no problem in manufacturing all manner of difficulties and putting such hurdles in our lives. These hurdles obviously include all manner of punishments and especially physical punishment. There are three things wrong with such notions. One, is that we react to constructed hardships differently than how we react to the workings of fate. Two, is that humans have a breaking point beyond which pain can only be destructive. Three, is that we are not really motivated by pain at all, and are in fact only motivated by pleasure.

The usual first feeling when confronted with adversity or tragedy is anger, anger at the world, anger at fate or anger at God. If however we know that the adversity or tragedy has been manufactured by a human being, we naturally are angry at that human being. If it is manufactured by a society, a culture, an organization or an institution, then the anger will be directed at them. It is now accepted that the pleasure we get and the strength we gain from adversity and tragedy comes from overcoming them. By facing a problem of adversity and overcoming it, we are no longer daunted by it. We no longer feel it is beyond our ability to control and this a central crux of learning. In this way we can become stronger and better, more than we were before. However, if people are not able to overcome the adversity or tragedy, they may break or lapse into defeatist lethargy. When this happens they will not become better or stronger but rather weaker and possibly become twisted by the experience.

The challenges. This whole idea of the usefullness of the hard trial to make us stonger is the extreem example of a challenge. Most learning requires that either others challenge us or we challenge ourselves. But, as with the hard trial, we only profit from it if we accomplish or overcome the challenge. If we fail a challenge it is not as bad as failing to deal with a tragedy, but it is still somewhat diminishing. However, the more we manage to overcome challenges the less we are diminished when we do fail. In other words, the more chalenges we manage to overcome, the more times we are successfull, the more easily we may be able to cope with challenge failures. But if we start to fail often with challenges, then we will become less and less able to cope with challenge failure and will beging to avoid challenges all together.   

 What is the purpose of both work and play? Many people have thought that what makes people happy might be possessions, comforts, and passively receiving pleasant stimulation such as watching sports or a movie. The whole idea of drives is that they are homeostatic. In drive activated situations, actions have to be performed to relive the drive tension, and thus the ideal happy state would be when all tensions have been sated and the organism is in a state of inactivity. This would be a sad state of affairs if true. Fortunately some research has been done into how real happiness and pleasure occur, and the results show, that inactivity, far from being the ideal state of happiness, is its opposite. It has been discovered, that work and play, are in fact how we come to feel pleasure and happiness.

Flow the Optimal Experience. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has spent a great deal of his life studying what it is that makes people happy and gives them pleasure. What he found however, is not what people expected. His work specifically dealt with thousands of people reporting to him about what gave them pleasure and what made them happy. It turns out, that what gives us the most pleasure and happiness, is our own optimal functioning. Mihaly discovered that people were happiest when their bodies and minds were functioning optimally. He found that people tend to experience a state, which he calls "flow", when they were functioning in their most optimal manner.

It has been pointed out elsewhere on this site, that people when they have performed better or in a competent manner, when they have mastered some skill, overcome some adversity, accomplished something or achieved some goal they have set for themselves, people experience these things as a kind of pleasure. This not what Mihaly is talking about however. What he is saying, is that the action of optimally using your mind or body also produces a experience of pleasure. Indeed it is such pleasure and happiness, that it is in all probability, the most intensely felt and usual form that pleasure and happiness take in our everyday lives. The situations in which this occurs, it seems, are when we feel challenged to do, learn or appreciate and our abilities are sufficient to accomplish this. In his book "Flow" Mihaly puts it like this:

"For that [to enjoy significant pleasure and experience real happiness] one needs to face more demanding challenges and use higher level skills.

In all the activities people in our study reported engaging in, enjoyment comes at a very specific point: whenever the opportunities for action perceived by the individual are equal to his or her capabilities. Playing tennis for instance, is not enjoyable if the two opponents are mismatched. The less skilled player will feel anxious, and the better player will feel bored. The same is true of every other activity: a piece of music that is too simple relative to one's listening skills will be boring, while music that is too complex will be frustrating. Enjoyment appears at the boundary between boredom and anxiety, when challenges are just balanced with the person's capacity to act."


Work and flow. While types of play such as sports are obviously understandable as conducive to flow experiences, work for most people is not obvious. Yet Mihaly's study showed again and again, that flow experiences occurred during every person's work, even when they hated their work. Not only that, but very few flow experiences happened during people's relaxing leisure activities. Although people often did not know it, they were happier and experienced more pleasure at work. But perhaps this not so difficult to understand. Only the most repetitive type of job does not provide challenges that we can match with our skills. Leisure activities on the other hand especially watching television often provides us with no challenges at all.

High on Information. The high people get from flow experiences is a good and life enhancing experience. But there are other types of internally produced highs that are not so life enhancing. Acquiring information also tends to give humans a feeling of intense pleasure. It would be ideal if we only received this kind pleasure burst when involved in real active learning. Unfortunately this not the case. We get a buzz when we are just sitting there being totally passive and being bombarded with unconnected bits of information. This information is hard to escape in modern society. It comes at us from billboards, TV, cell phones and incidentally as we surf the web. It is important to understand the difference between these two types of pleasure. One leads to a lifetime of expanding capacity and personal growth, while the other leads to a couch potatoism of useless unconnected and uninteresting facts.    

The pleasure and happiness we experience at work is however both more profound and healthy. This is probably the way it should be. In a sense the research into flow has turned the "Protestant Work Ethic" on it's head. We can now say that we should work because it gives us challenges that result in the wholly enjoyable state of flow. Like wise we should not engage in non involving leisure or play because they usually do not provide any challenges and thus will not put us in the enjoyable state of flow. In other words, work because it is enjoyable, and do not indulge in time wasting inactivity, because it is time when we are deprived of even the possibility of flow pleasure.     

Make your life fun.

Nigel Risner

In his book "How to be a Complete and Utter Failure in Life, Work and Everything" Steve Mc Dermott asks us:

"Do you work for a living? Do you unenthusiastically drag yourself out of bed every morning for another boring day, doing a job which at the best you don't really care about and at the worst you loathe? You do? Excellent, you're well on the way to a totally unfulfilled life."

Ordinary people can have fun at work or play. Whether you are working or playing, if you are not having some fun, you really need to ask yourself why you are doing it. You may get answers like, "I am playing tennis with this person so I can get promoted at work." Or you may hear yourself say, "I am working at this dreary job with these dreary people so I can make good money." or "I am afraid to try to get another job because this what I know how to do." These are poor excuses. The thing is, what kind of life are you living? People in concentration camps probably had some fun. Unlike in times past, in this day and age, we will not die if we do not work. We have an opportunity and a responsibility to try and find work we like to do. As for play, we should never give up that precious time to have fun, which is already allocated to us. If you can see work as play and if work and play are enjoyable, life will be enjoyable and better.

"Tragedy and heartbreak are a fact of life. The natural balance of the universe seems to preclude the possibility of things being good all the time." Nigel Risner

So life is hard enough without making it miserable by doing things we don't enjoy, being with people we dislike, or telling people how bad things are. This not to say that we should pick and choose bits of what we might like doing, but to rather choose something that is centrally enjoyable to us and expect for all parts of it to gradually become enjoyable through association.

We can also, if we so wish, lift our own burden of life and lift the burden of life for others, by making it more enjoyable for them and our selves. We can do this, by not taking things too seriously all the time, by making people laugh and smile.

Of course there are times when you have to do things you dislike, as there is no way of avoiding them. These are probably far fewer than you think. However, when they occur you can find ways of making them more enjoyable by associating enjoyable things with them. In his book the "The Impact Code" Nigel Risner has much to say about how we can make the disagreeable agreeable or fun. He says at one point:

"You can still have fun while doing something you don't want to do or don't particularly enjoy. Just getting through a task that will either help your family or take you closer to your dream should be enough to keep you smiling. If the job in hand is truly boring then make it your business to make it fun for you and everyone you work with. Time really does fly when you are having fun." "...People love happy, reasonable people. Go's a shocker isn't it?"

Ordinary people can and should have fun when learning. Learning may be considered either work or play but whatever you consider it to be, it must be enjoyable. Learning must be fun. If it is not fun, it will increasingly become more and more difficult to do. Your curiosity will atrophy and you will find yourself just waiting for, and treasuring the moments, when you do not have to learn. Not having fun in learning is a sure indicator that learning will stop.

The fact is the main reason we do things that we dislike is because we are too lazy to make the effort to change our circumstances. But the cost is that we live a life of misery. The words we say to ourselves create a mindset. If we used different words like, "This not fun. What can I do that would be fun?" or "What can I do to make this fun?" then we might put ourselves on the right track. But we still need to take action.

In Summary. This site is trying to ensure the process whereby children become valuable members of human society. This process will be facilitated by decreasing the salience of extrinsic motivators enabling children to be more aware of their own intrinsic motivators and thus making those motivators increasingly salient. In doing this we make work more like play. This may even involve internalizing certain aspects of the protestant ethic, but only where this constructively enables work to become pleasurable. The protestant work ethic needs to be ignored when it causes people, institutions or society construct adversity and pain with the intention that it is somehow good for people. Rather the process needs to initiate and draw out of students, the confidence and tenacity for overcoming adversity. This in turn is done by making work interesting, choosing to only do work that is interesting, and and providing ourselves with sufficient challenge in our work that it is only just within the limits of our abilities. In this way our work can be optimized to provide us with the best kind of intrinsic motivation where we will do our best work and be happiest when doing it.

Remember also that work, play and learning are all things that can and should be enjoyed, they should be fun. If they are not fun why in the world would you want to do them in a world where you do not have to? Remember also, if learning is fun, we will continue to do it throughout our lives. We will become life long learners.

"Work and play are words used to describe the same thing under differing conditions. Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do." Mark Twain

"The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence in whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he is always doing both." from a Zen Buddhist text.

"The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran.

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