The Structures of Everyday Life
Time is fleeting. Sometimes, we may have found ourselves trying to grasp the moment, be it by taking a deep breath and soaking it all in, or by clicking the perfect selfie. However, that moment passes, and we return to being a part of the usual temporal flow. Studies conducted over two decades ago suggested that people spent around 20-45% of their time engaged in working or studying, 20-42% of their time doing maintenance activities such as housework, eating, grooming, commuting, and invested 20-43% of their time in leisure activities (Csikszentmihalyi & Graef, 1980; Kubey & Csikszentmihalyi, 1990; Larson & Richards, 1994). Roughly, these 3 domains of life take up a 1/3rd each of our weekly schedules. Given the equivalent distributions, it may also be easy to see that all 3 domains our equally valued by humankind. However, there are discrepancies between the attitudes towards each of these, with work often perceived as the least favorable domain.
The Paradox of Work
A general trend has been observed among reports of moods during, and attitudes towards work and leisure activities. People generally report higher levels of engagement and enjoyment at work and higher levels of boredom and apathy during their leisure time. Paradoxically, the motivation to work is usually reported as lower than that of engaging in leisure activities (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997). Apart from jobs that are extremely limited in terms of individual flexibility, the workplace consists of a set of goals and challenges that the individual must then act upon using germane skills. These goals may be strictly work-oriented such as completions of tasks by their deadlines, or simply social in nature such as interaction with one’s co-workers and in some cases, one’s clients. If one were to juxtapose the findings, it would be evident that there is a dissonance between what is enjoyable and what we actually want more of. Once one is done with work and now faces the ever-so-rewarding leisure time, one will need to invest energy to structure the free time in order to actually make it enjoyable. If this effort is not made, one may resort to idling around or find themselves engaged in apathetically passive activities such as watching reality television shows.
The Internal and the External
With the onset of the industrial revolution, mankind found itself working tirelessly clocking in an unhealthy number of hours working in inhumane conditions. When the external stresses that came along with the experience of such intensive environments where even children were subjected to high-stress workplace atmospheres, work tended to be regarded as unpleasant and stressful, and leisure time became more or less the only time that people could replenish themselves and ‘live their lives’. Thus, work was to be avoided if there was even the slightest possibility to do so and the motivation to engage in leisure was higher than ever. As attitudes and perceptions are passed on from generation to generation through the social and cultural realm, this may partially explain the paradoxical relationship between the motivation to work and the levels of enjoyment usually reported at the workplace.
In today’s age of technological advancement, there is now an opportunity to redefine for ourselves what our job actually means to us. There are constraints such as financial stability and the high demand for jobs that make the transitioning from one workplace, or even from one profession to another less fluid as one may want it to be. Even though this may seem like the hammer on the nail that makes enjoyment completely dependent on only working in a domain that is of utmost meaning to the individual, fortunately it is not and with the fulfilment of conditions required for Flow as well as training one’s attention, one can find enjoyment in their present working scenario, irrespective of whether it is meaningful or not.
The Case of Cole & Dylan
Let us consider the case of two gardeners, Cole and Dylan. They both work 7 hours a day, 5 days a week, tending to plants at the Botanical Garden in their neighborhood. Cole wakes up in the morning dreadful of the day ahead, goes to work, and slugs throughout the day. He completes his tasks for the day with the heaviness of an elephant in the sand, and as the day progresses, gets increasingly restless, wanting to go home as soon as possible. Dylan, on the other hand, wakes up with the freshness of the-first-day-at-a-new-job every day, and progresses through his day that over time he has now structured and tailored to his own needs and capacities. As goals emerge out of his involvement at work, coupled with his fine eye for finding new challenges at hand every day, Dylan is able to make his job more varied, challenging, and as fresh as a freshly opened pack of Wintergreen Altoids. When asked, Cole mostly reports that ‘he would rather be doing something else’ whereas Dylan reports that when he is at the Botanical Garden, working, tending to his plants, ‘there is no other place he’d rather be’. What makes the same job taxing for one person, and highly enjoyable for the other?
Perceived Opportunities for Action
If one was to train themselves to find challenging opportunities for action no matter how low demanding their environment be, one may have found the path to structure every activity and make it possible to enter a flow state at will. This aspect is the one where mindfulness comes into play significantly. As one is increasingly aware of one’s environment and what is going on in the present moment, one can extract challenging opportunities for oneself from the environment for one to engage in. As these challenges involve the exercising of one’s skills, an individual comes out of this process of Flow a more skillful, and a more complex (uniquely skilled, yet rooted) person.
What you have to do.
Keeping up with the ritual of journaling about your chosen activity and the balance between your challenge and skill level related to the activity, this week we also ask you to log in a journal entry every day immediately after work, when the details of the day’s events are fresh in one’s mind. Note down how you felt throughout work at day, and if there were any specific parts of the day that you particularly enjoyed, along with the parts where you felt highly motivated. Additionally, we would also like you to make an entry about how you felt when you were engaged in a leisure activity, and whether it was an active one such as playing a sport or engaging in a hobby, or a passive one such as watching television. At the end of the week, you may want to reflect on these entries and paint a picture for the next week as to what an enjoyable day looks like and how it can be structured to make it possible to flow through it effortlessly, fostering personal development moment-by-moment along the way.
Awareness Game of the Week
This week’s Awareness Game is called I Am dot dot dot (O’Connor, 2016). This game involves visualizing words as they’re being written. Visualize the words:
Now, think to the end of a sentence and visualize it while it is being written. Next, erase your written sentence, leaving only “I am…”. Repeat this as many times as you would like to. You may also want to visualize the backspacing part where you erase the sentence back to the “I am…”.
How does this make you feel?
Keywords: flow, enjoyment, engagement, work, paradox, dissonance, motivation, attitude, perception, meaning
Ajit Mann is a Master’s Candidate in Positive Developmental Psychology and Evaluation at Claremont Graduate University.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Finding flow. New York: Basic Books.
Csikszentmihalyi, M., & Graef, R. (1980). The experience of freedom in daily life. American Journal of Community Psychology, 8, 401-414.
Kubey, R., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Television and the quality of life. Hillsdale, N. J.: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Larson, R., & Richards, M. H. (1994). Divergent realities: The emotional lives of mothers, fathers, and adolescents. New York: Basic Books.
O’Connor, B. T. (2016). Awareness Games: Playing with Your Mind to Create Joy. Slippery Mind.