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June 27, 2016 2:10 PM   Subscribe

I'm great at fulfilling my obligations, but awful at doing things for fun or pleasure. What has helped you get better at doing things for enjoyment?

I have a pretty nice life: good job with benefits, wonderful supportive partner, safe home, good friends and close family. However, I live as if my life were just a string of obligations. I focus on what I have to do: go to work, pay bills, family obligations, cleaning the house, etc. When I'm done with the last thing I have to do, I think about the next thing I have to do.

When there's nothing on the list, I stare at the Internet until something comes up that I have to do. When I have a day off, I think about various "constructive" things that I ought to be doing.

There are activities I do enjoy, like eating, spending time with my partner, walking to places. But that's a case where that activity is something I already "have to" do, and if I happen to enjoy it, great! It's like a small cheat. But if I approach an activity solely for its own enjoyment's sake, I get so anxious that I just freeze up. I can't enjoy it. It feels like a "worthless" activity, and I get distracted by the nagging thought that I should be doing something more "worthwhile." It's like my brain is on pins and needles and I have to stop and do something on the "homework list" because I can't stand it otherwise.

I have been in and out of therapy for years, and one thing that has been a problem for me is that therapists have talked about "enjoying the moment" as though that were a skill I already possessed. I don't feel like that's a skill I can do yet, and I want to learn HOW.

For those of you who have struggled with this problem, what has helped you to get better?
posted by MetaFilter World Peace to Human Relations (12 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Meditation. And actually, walking meditation works best for me, so you can do something you enjoy while learning to actively enjoy it. Bonus!
posted by Ruki at 2:21 PM on June 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh I totally have this problem.

What has helped me:

- Honestly a lot of my fun activities are, like you mention, things that I also "have to" do, or at least things that I can *convince* myself I have to do (cooking and eating, walking, reading since I'm a librarian, etc.). Can you find more of those things, or make up BS reasons to put them on your homework list?

- Similarly, finding things that are fun but also seem like they will better me in some way (practicing piano, Duolingo, running); this seems to trick my brain.

- Setting aside an amount of time (depending on the day, 30-60 minutes or so) to do something that is enjoyable but objectively pointless (reading fanfic, napping, playing SimCity) and convincing my brain that it is self-care - like, in order to be a healthy human being I need to sometimes do things that are fun but pointless, and it is okay in exactly x quantity. Basically I'm putting "do a fun thing" on my homework list, in the same category as showering, eating vegetables, and exercising.

- Reminding myself that staring at the internet is not a more valid use of my time than the fun things. Keeping a super short journal (just a list of things I did that day other than work) is helpful for keeping me accountable for this. Like, if I came home from work, made dinner, went to the store, and then spent two hours staring at the internet - well, that sucks, and isn't better than having spent two hours playing a video game, even though that would have been more enjoyable for me at the time.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 2:23 PM on June 27, 2016 [6 favorites]

Try something like gardening, where there's always something useful to do. Crafting can also be good because you can set goals for yourself like making Christmas gifts for you friends or family or making a bunch of cat trees for your local shelter. Lots of people find peace and mindfulness from gardening, though. Woodcarving household items can also be good. There are plenty of hobbies that are also productive.

If you like to walk places but don't like just walking, take a bag and pick up trash as you walk, or get a dog that wants to walk a lot.
posted by irisclara at 2:40 PM on June 27, 2016

This is what hobbies are for. Find the right hobby, one that motivates you and keeps you interested and hopefully connects you with friends that share your hobby, and this problem basically corrects itself. If you have a fun thing that is also a social obligation -- a weekly bike ride with some friends, for example -- then your brain may put it on your "have to" list and now you "have to" have fun once a week. Scale up as necessary.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:42 PM on June 27, 2016

What happens if you take the thing you enjoy (but have to do) and amp it up some? For instance, if you kind of enjoy cooking, spend a morning browsing glorious farmer's market booths for ingredients for a really delicious meal (fancy mushrooms! Local wine! Summer tomatoes! Fancy soap and lotion for a post-cooking spa night for you or your partner!). Something like a farmers market is virtuous enough for me to enjoy it, but also awesome. (Your specific fun virtue may vary.)
posted by instamatic at 2:52 PM on June 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

The anxiety is a shield and a distraction. It says, How dare you sit and enjoy a moment to yourself. Let me torture you, make you feel more and more uncomfortable until it feels like the world is about to end, until you do what I want!

Except the world won't end if you sit and do nothing, and guilt is just a feeling, when you aren't doing anything wrong.

The traumas from childhood leave deep scars because, as little children, we only knew to deal with them by covering them up, by looking away, by doing all kinds of magical-thinking/activities and hoping that by doing so, we are keeping the monsters away. And these lessons, learned so young, came with layers and layers of semi-conscious justification as we grow up, but the underlying pain and damage don't go anywhere, and never heals.

Ultimately, the monsters of childhood are not so terrible when we grow to be adults. Except, the layers of magical thinking and anxiety won't even let you look at the original trauma, to recognize it for what it is.

"It's like my brain is on pins and needles and I have to stop and do something on the "homework list" because I can't stand it otherwise."

You CAN stand it. Sit in the anxiety. Let it wash over you, immerse in it, taste it, observe it, and understand this is how your childhood self tried to protect you, but you have outgrown the need for this protection. Take it one bout at a time -- you might start with 1 minute, then move to 2 minute, then 3... Until one day, you will be able to see it as something entirely separate from you, that happens almost mechanically, without reason, just a habit from long ago. And one day, you may learn to shed that habit.

And you may want to look into more structured CBT sessions as a way to deal with this anxiety.

Best of luck.
posted by enlivener at 2:57 PM on June 27, 2016 [21 favorites]

For what it's worth, I had a morning exactly like that this past Saturday, as I lay in bed paralyzed by So Much Stuff To Do. I felt awful! I wanted to hop up, clean the house, do more work, go exercise, and go on a diet all! At! Once! to deal with the anxiety. I sat with the really, really uncomfortable feeling. I talked to myself about how none of the things I felt compelled to do would actually have much practical value in this instance. And then I went to the farmers market, bought a massive amount of delicious food, and fed my family an entire table's worth of fruits and vegetables for lunch. (And I felt so much better, after. It was sort of a combination of sensory input, a modicum of responsible behavior-- just enough to feel ok, without spinning into more anxiety, getting out into the sunshine, and just plain fun.)

So yeah, I think sitting with the discomfort is a valuable thing, and worth doing, but I don't think you have to do it all at once to the point of being miserable. Do it to your tolerance, and a bit beyond, and next time it will be a little easier, and you can sit with it a little longer. But do fun things (things that really ARE fun for you, not just things that should be fun) too.
posted by instamatic at 3:56 PM on June 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

One thing that helps me is to do something with a schedule. It could be anything from the corporate softball team to a book club to a course at your local community college. It works well if there is team component so you have have taken on some responsibility not to let anyone down.

Now, if you have children, you have their schedule to get you out of the house. Soccer, or play dates, or Cub Scouts, or whatever.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:19 PM on June 27, 2016

Plan fun things to do and schedule them in your calendar. Make lists of restaurants to try out, movies to see and festivals to check out.
posted by saturdaymornings at 4:23 PM on June 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

I used to be like this. I was a hyper scheduled and very productive/high achieving child/teen and I am someone with a lot of energy/anxious tendencies, so not using that for something productive felt like a waste of time.

I am now probably closer to the other side of the spectrum (fun is the mission). I think that change occurred in my early 20s for 3 main reasons:

1. Started dating people seriously enough to sleep over multiple times per week, and saw how much time people wasted. One guy slept like 14 hours a day (seriously), and everyone else had side projects going on or just kind of did whatever a WAY larger percentage of the time than me, and I already respected them as productive members of society.

2. Moved to the west side of the US where the culture is on the chiller side. I observed people sitting around and just like, chilling, which was honestly something I hadn't witnessed before. I also went to some music festivals at which I met a new group of friends and witnessed adults not talking about work or anything productive for 3 straight days and literally just enjoying themselves. This was absolutely mindblowing to me the first few times.

3. Yoga, weed, therapy, music - not necessarily related to each other but all things that have helped me get in the moment more and stay there most of the rest of the time.
posted by internet of pillows at 4:38 PM on June 27, 2016 [6 favorites]

I fucking love my XBox
posted by Jacqueline at 6:41 PM on June 27, 2016

This may be seem completely unhelpful, but I've struggled with this in the past, and the biggest thing that's helped is finding activities that I just genuinely really want to do. I like a lot of productive things and even things for work, so I have a tendency to overfocus on those. I also like the feeling of productivity.

But, I really enjoy crocheting and binge watching my favorite TV shows. It's fun and distracting and recharges my brain. Also, bonus, you end up fulfilling the productivity need because you just made a scarf (or whatever). Sometimes I do art on my ipad while watching TV. Again, I like having something tangible, even if it's just on my screen. (If I'm really brain dead, I play phone games, but that's much less satisfying.

I also really love writing, currently into the whole fanfiction thing, and other fandom related stuff. I love it. Lots of fun. Would totally choose to do it over work.

I also cycle through other "productive-ish" hobbies, like playing an instrument, using Duolingo to learn a new language, etc.

I find it helps to balance out things that require more brainwork and others that don't.

I've also tried to reframe my internet time, since I also sometimes find myself crashed in front of my computer browsing the web. I like being on mefi, and I've learned valuable things, and also it's just a way I enjoy passing time, similar to watching TV. (You can substitute other internet activities for mefi, obviously.) Yeah, there are times when I'm really just killing time, and when feasible, I might take that as a sign to do something else, but also, sometimes you just need to waste a little time. I think it's healthy. So if I start getting irritated at myself for "wasting time" I try to re-direct, and accept that usually if I'm doing the "wasting time" thing, it's not a waste, because it's just my brain's way of getting re-charged.
posted by litera scripta manet at 9:24 PM on June 27, 2016

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