do you love sundays?

07/09/2011

by anne lueneburger

This is a joke by Xavier Gorce which I spotted in Le Monde recently, and for those of us who do not speak French, let me try to translate:

Scene 1: “All week I look forward to Sunday when I can finally do what I really want to do.”

Scene 2:”But I end up spending my entire Sunday wondering what it is that I really want to be doing.”

Scene 3: “I hate Sundays.”

Scene 4: ”Except for during the week.”

Does this ring true? While at work, many people believe that they’ll be so much happier the moment that they leave. Much energy is expended on thinking about how ‘work is not fulfilling’, and ‘if only it was leisure time which is more worthwhile’. And, while there are some of us who truly know how to spend our days off (so that time seems to fly by), and feel energized by what we do, and challenged just at the right level, it turns out that these beliefs are mostly a myth.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a famous psychologist and researcher, has recorded this phenomenon with the help of a device that pings at random points in time. His research participants filled out a form based on their current activity and any associated feelings and thoughts. His finding: we have more enjoyable experiences at work than when we have time off. He summarized: “We have this paradoxical situation: On the job people feel skillful and challenged, and therefore feel more happy, strong, creative and satisfied. In their free time people feel that there is generally not much to do and their skills are not being used, and therefore tend to feel more sad, weak, dull and dissatisfied. Yet they would like to work less and spend more time in leisure.”

While part of the reason for this paradox stems from a common struggle to design leisure time so that it is, in fact, enjoyable, I want to focus on the work part for now, as this is where we spent most of our waking hours in the week.

A substantial reason for the paradox is that we are primed from a young age to ‘do homework first, and then play’. This presents homework as a chore and play as a reward, and creates a clear distinction between the two. Now, who says homework can’t be fun? Of course, if it boils down to writing down the same word 30 times then, I concur, this is dreadful. But I have seen different teachers take very different approaches to teaching resulting in a vast difference in how the children experience the process of learning.

What would the world look like if we allowed ourselves to experience these ‘to dos’ as things which are interesting, which play to our natural curiosity, or to any other strengths that we may have? How could you ‘re-craft’ your current responsibilities so that they offer you these much desired ‘being in the flow’ experiences?

Through changing our perspective and taking a pro-active stance to play to our strengths we can make the six days of the week that we spend at work more meaningful, and as a result more energizing. In fact, we may be so involved and engaged that we don’t even think about Sunday until it’s upon us. And then the pressure to make the most out of the one day a week would be significantly reduced, allowing one penguin to tell the other: “Actually, I love Sundays.”

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