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A typology of joyful pursuits?
February 27, 2014 8:47 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for resources to help better understand the different types of activities that bring people joy and meaning.

I can best explain what I mean with examples:
I feel most spirited when engaged in some communal activity (group singing, or a big festive meal); I have one friend who, clearly, comes alive when 'doing science' or exploring some new idea in a challenging conversation; another friend seems to light up most when giving to or helping others; sometimes I'll see a musician or other performer 'come into themselves' while doing their thing. It's great to feel this way, and fun to see it in others.

I'd like to understand and nourish joy-making in myself and others. Has anything been written about different 'categories' of meaningful activity? Or how different personalities are best engaged and brought to life?

I'm open to any and all recommendations: book or article, psychology, philosophy, or new agey woo. I'm sort of a categories person, but if the question is best answered with resources that have a looser approach, that's OK too.
posted by figgy_finicky to Religion & Philosophy (9 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
 
Flourish by Martin Seligman (a founder of the Positive Psychology movement) talks about this. He says that when people talk about "happiness," they are actually referring to five different components: Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment (PERMA). He doesn't necessarily give lists of what leads to these things, but I think it's a useful categorization.
posted by chickenmagazine at 9:29 AM on February 27


The Indivisible Self (Myers & Sweeney, 2004) is a model of wellness that might suggest some ways for you to reflect on what helps people be well and feel fulfilled. It breaks wellness out into factors--the activities that promote each essential area for any given person are of course very individual. I've used this with clients and for myself with success. If you like, you can skip straight to the wheel diagrams and discussion of the factors, and then go back to the geekier bits. Maybe you will find it helpful.
posted by sister nunchaku of love and mercy at 9:44 AM on February 27 [1 favorite]


Not related to a specific category per se, but have a look at the concept of Flow.
posted by Dr Dracator at 9:46 AM on February 27


Jane McGonigal's Reality is Broken is largely about gaming, with huge sections on the joyful pursuits which motivate people. She references Flow quite a lot, and though I haven't yet read that, I feel like they would be great books to read concurrently.
posted by jessicapierce at 9:51 AM on February 27 [1 favorite]


My resource is a short aphorism:

I slept and dreamt that life was joy.
I awoke and saw that life was service.
I acted and behold, service was joy.

--Rabindranath Tagore

And, in Keats' words:

Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced -- even a proverb is no proverb to you till your life has illustrated it.

My life has illustrated the Tagore aphorism. I can't do service as work (although I kind of do but not in the same way), but my greatest joy has been in service to others.
posted by janey47 at 10:00 AM on February 27 [4 favorites]


Jenova Chen is a game designer who's written some interesting things about how to engage and fulfill people through cooperative gameplay (big sections on this in McGongal's book too, and she goes into the psychological and physical benefits of such cooperation). He's based several games around Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's Flow theory.

"In order to maintain a person’s Flow experience, the activity needs to reach a balance between the challenges of the activity and the abilities of the participant. If the challenge is higher than the ability, the activity becomes overwhelming and generates anxiety. If the challenge is lower than the ability, it provokes boredom... The description of Flow is identical to what a player experiences when totally immersed in a video game. During this experience, the player loses track of time and forgets all external pressures."
posted by jessicapierce at 10:02 AM on February 27


On Staying Grounded at Ribbonfarm. It's about pursuits that are enjoyable vs. pursuits that are both enjoyable and grounding. Includes a categorization system for types of grounding rituals!
posted by pie ninja at 2:02 PM on February 27 [1 favorite]


This is not an analysis, but I think you may find it helpful anyway: the Pleasant Events Schedule, a tool used in psychological studies. It's just a list, 320 items long, of activities that people frequently report finding pleasant, from "introducing people who I think would like each other" to "getting up early in the morning" to "shoplifting." It's unexpectedly fascinating.
posted by ostro at 2:51 PM on February 27 [2 favorites]


You should probably read Maslow on peak experiences.
posted by zadcat at 2:53 PM on February 27 [1 favorite]


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