Exercise is hard. My primary form of exercise – running – is particularly unfathomable to many. Yet when it comes to running long distances, I’m one of those annoying people who “get it”.
You know what I also get? Eating doughnuts. Who doesn’t love doughnuts? Fried dough, delectable vanilla icing, rainbow sprinkles. What’s more, eating doughnuts is a lot more fun than running. No matter how much I engage in both activities, eating doughnuts never fails to out-fun running. But here’s the thing: I eat doughnuts only rarely but I run 30 to 50 miles six or seven days a week. So what gives? Am I preternaturally disciplined? Obsessed with being skinny? Is someone always chasing me?
The answer is that I’m acutely self-aware of what makes me happy as opposed to what merely makes me feel good. Orgasms feel good yet I’ll wager that if I spent my life pursuing them I’d be a less happy person. If engaged in for a prolong period of time, fun things tend to make me miserable. Difficult things, conversely tend to make me happy.
Confusion about the difference between fun and happiness has caused no shortage of pain in people’s lives. A good question to ask yourself before engaging in any activity, from flossing your teeth to going to attending religious services, has been suggested by author Dennis Prager. The question is “How will I feel once I’m done?” Happiness-inducing activities tend to provide good feelings long after the activity has ceased. Merely fun things, however, tend to stop providing pleasure the moment one desists in the activity.
This phenomenon is easy to observe in children. Calling my children inside for dinner, they remain flushed with the joy of having played outside. They exhibit the “glow” I feel after a good run. But if I must inform them that it’s time to stop playing video games or watching Netflix, well, the words “profoundly irritated” best describe them.
We all know that passive entertainment diverts us for a time but leaves us less happy and more irritable. Yet we continue to eat junk food, play video games and watch too much tv instead of doing the hard work of exercising, reaching out to others and creating.
If you want to spend your life having fun then by all means, fill it with fun things. But if you want to spend your life being happy, pursue things that make you happy.
But most importantly, constantly remind yourself of the difference.