Some months ago, I came across this article from The Atlantic titled, The Quantified Welp: A new study suggests that measuring an activity makes it less enjoyable. It’s sort of self-explanatory, and it does make sense: if you’re doing something and measuring it instead of being immersed in the activity, you’d end up enjoying it less.
Of course, the study clearly says that the intention of the activity matters too.
Say you want to lose weight—you would, of course, measure all those calories you burn while exercising. The end goal is different for you: you want to lose weight, so you track it; it has nothing to do with enjoying the activity or not. It’s different for those who just want to exercise because, well, they enjoy exercising.
The article goes on to paint another picture: say you’re doing colouring. You enjoy colouring. But then add a certain goal (e.g. colouring a certain number of figures), and you’d end up saying you enjoy the experience less. Sure, you get more figures done. But you don’t enjoy it as much.
A follow-up article on The Atlantic sums it simply: measuring an activity makes it feel like work, so you enjoy it less, even though you’re doing more of it. Consequently, it reduces your ‘subjective well-being’.
It makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?
I feel like we, as a generation, are quite obsessed with to-do-lists, goals, and doing things that absolutely have to be defended on why we are doing them. I haven’t heard my friends taking up a hobby just for the fun of doing it, or trying new things simply for the pleasure of discovering something new.
Everything we do has to have a reason: it’s for education, for money-making potential, for future references, for better lives. We’re no longer curious beings.
At the moment, the only activity that I’m measuring is the number of books I’m reading. Every year, I do what is called the Goodreads Reading Challenge, where you set up your goal on how many books you want to read in a year. Most years, I finish the challenge, reading 48-52 books. And I do think it’s a good challenge: I get to read books (or force myself to spare some time to read them), and I get to track the books I’ve read.
But I also agree with the article: sometimes I read a book just for the sake of ticking the box, and it makes the experience less enjoyable.
This is especially true for the books I’ve read halfway and hated, yet still feel compelled to finish them so that I don’t end up wasting my time and effort. I’ve read the book halfway, so even though I clearly dislike it, I better finish it since I can use it to cross one more book off my list.
Earlier this year, this is exactly what happened. I read book after book, often without a break, quickly opening another one right after putting the other back on the shelf. I’ve read up to ten books a month, eager to see where my limit lies—to see how fast can I devour a book.
I enjoy those reads, but if I’m entirely honest, I enjoy them a tad less. Apart from a few outstanding ones, I don’t remember much of what the other books are all about. I have to read my own reviews on the book, trying to refresh my memory on what I’ve read merely a few months back. And I seem to forget the titles and authors even on the books I do like.
Perhaps it’s time to slow down.
So after a few months of reading too much, I think I’ve finally found my reading groove back: three or four books a month, which gives me time to process the book and really live in the moment with them. These days, I no longer place a library reservation straightaway on the books I want to read, but putting one when I actually have the time for new books.
And truth is: the same thing happens with my writing.
There was a time where I set myself one writing goal after the other, and instead of being fuelled to go further, it made me slack. The words wouldn’t come, and I sort of became indifferent towards the ‘activity’, feeling like I have to write instead of I want to. And I want to go back to the times where I write for fun, where I write because I want to, not because I’m expected to.
So I took an unofficial break. If you noticed, I haven’t been writing much this year, and now you know why. That being said, I can feel that I start to miss it (writing). Perhaps I’ll come back to the craft soon.
And this time, I’ll remind myself that it’s okay, or recommended even, to do things just for fun—just for the sake in enjoying what we do, without feeling guilty if we have nothing to show for it.
To believe that time we enjoy wasting is not wasted time.