Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Desire vs. Obligation

We've just returned from the SHINE unschooling conference in Niagara Falls, Ontario.  I had a relevation, but it didn't come at the conference.  It came as we arrived home.

For ten days, we had been touring, seeing museums and natural wonders, and attending the conference, all very enjoyable.  As we neared home, though, my thoughts started to turn to what things would be piled up and need to be done to catch up from being away.  And that's when I realized that part of the reason I'd enjoyed myself so much was that I'd been doing things I wanted to do, whereas in my normal life I almost exclusively do things I feel I ought to do.  I have reached a point where I run my life almost exclusively based on perceived obligations.

I constantly choose to do tasks based on the idea that I will feel better when things have been completed.  I've found in particular I often feel unhappy if I didn't accomplish anything after work, no matter what other enjoyable activities I've done.  In reality there is a never-ending list of other tasks to be done, so the pleasure is short-lived.  The alternative, of course, is to not delay happiness, but do things which are enjoyable right now.  I'm not sure how I developed such a strong sense of accomplishment as reward, but it seems consistent with Puritan values, so I'm guessing it's not that rare in American society.

As they say, realizing you have a problem is half the battle.  So, what am I doing with my revelation?  Well, I'm trying to simply choose at every opportunity the action which will actually bring my pleasure in the doing, not in the finishing.  There are still things which will have to be done, but I intend to do them at the time that I look at them and think, "I would really be happier to have this done right now", not with the anticipation that I will be happier in the future if I don't have to do it then.

One other component of this change in outlook is to reduce the number of things which are perceived as obligations.  Keep up with email, especially mailing lists?  Don't have to.  Blogs I'm subscribed to?  No obligation to read anyone.  All the filing, cleaning, and reading around the house?  I've been not doing it and feeling guilty for a long time, so if I continue to not do it but lose the guilt, I'm ahead, right?  In return I hope I'll find the time to hike, ride bikes, play with the kids, and go to events where before, I might have felt I needed to stay home and get work done.


  1. Sometimes... I find that when I am the happiest and the most in the moment I actually feel the most accomplished. But when I start focusing on the "need's to be done's" I am all out of whack and really accomplish the least.

    Good for you! Aren't conferences magical?!?!?!

  2. It seems like taking care of our "stuff" takes the majority of our time.

    Right now we have a world tour cyclist staying here. He's been on the road 3 years with a bike and maybe 60lbs of gear. When we were on the road for 10 days with what fit in the car, I was happy. (There's stuff I would miss eventually, but not all of it). I also lived in Switzerland for a year (20 years ago) with the contents of two footlockers.

  3. Compelling arguements ... I think I'll just ignore all those obligations also. :)

  4. After two or three days of only doing what you want to, you feel pretty content, so you don't mind taking some time to do what needs to be done.

    Or maybe not for you, Rob. I think video games can keep you occupied a lot longer than other forms of relaxing.

    Of course, I'm still posting to Facebook and blogs, and there's still plenty of other work to do.