I just got back from a very nice week’s vacation. While I was away, I tried an experiment on myself, which turned out very successfully.
I’d been intrigued by studies suggesting that interrupting a pleasant experience with something less pleasant can intensify a person’s overall pleasure. For example, surprisingly, commercials actually make TV-watching more fun. Interrupting a massage heightens the pleasure it gives.
I decided to adapt this finding for my holiday. Along with pleasure reading—I spent most of my reading time on two excellent books, E.O. Wilson’s Naturalist and Virginia Woolf’s A Moment’s Liberty: The Shorter Diary, though there’s only so much reading I can do on a family vacation—I took several long articles that I’d been meaning to read. They’d been sitting on my shelf, cluttering up my precious surface space, weighing on my mind, for months. I knew that if I sat down with them, I could probably read the entire stack in an hour or so, but I never felt like doing that.
So I brought the papers on vacation, and every day, I read one. And, in fact, as those studies would predict, I found that including this small irksome task in my day made my vacation more fun.
First, perhaps counter-intuitively, having a little task to do amplified my general feeling of leisure. Because I did do a little work, when I was reading for fun, it felt more fun.
Second, tackling this work made me feel virtuous and productive. My sense of accomplishment far outweighed the actual work I was doing. (Nothing like a good dose of self-congratulation!)
Third, it gave me enormous satisfaction to throw out that big stack of papers—not to mention the pleasure of gloating over my clear shelf when I returned home.
Have you found that interrupting a pleasurable activity can intensify it?
* I was enjoying this video in which Felice Cohen explains how she has organized her life to fit into a 90-square-foot apartment, because she wanted to live in a certain neighborhood in New York City but not saddle herself with a high rent — and then got a thrill at the end, when she sits down to read — The Happiness Project!
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