Secret of Adulthood: You Can Choose What You Do, But You Can’t Choose What You Like To Do.

Further Secrets of Adulthood:

For instance, I can decide to go to a concert, fly-fish, or do a crossword puzzle–but I can’t decide to like going to concerts, fly-fishing, or doing crossword puzzles.  And in fact, these are three things that I wish I enjoyed, but I don’t.

What do you think? Agree, disagree?

It’s also true that I can’t choose what I like to do, but I can choose what I do. Like driving. You can hear me tell my story about that Secret of Adulthood here.

There’s a related Secret of Adulthood: Just because something is fun for other people doesn’t mean it’s fun for me, and vice versa.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • really it is a very wonderful subject Thank you very much 🙂

  • Carole-Ann

    Like I can choose to DO the ironing but I don’t have to LIKE it? Is that the same thing?

  • Doorie Qazi

    In Pusruit of HappYness 🙂

  • Doorie Qazi

    You Can Choose What You Do, But You Can’t ALWAYS Choose What You Like To Do.

  • Lisa Youens

    I find the opposite of the truth especially helpful. I can’t make myself LIKE exercise, but I can make myself exercise!

  • Maureen Richmond

    I don’t get this at all. You are perfectly capable of choosing what and what you like to do. For example, I am going to play tennis today. Of course I like to play tennis. You can also not like something and choose not to do it. If you don’t like driving then don’t drive.

    • gretchenrubin

      Haven’t you ever WISHED you liked to do something – fly, go to cocktail parties, learn a language – that you don’t actually like to do?

      • Kat

        I COMPLETELY get this! I live in a neighborhood full of people who play tennis and golf. Constantly I get bombarded with “Do you play?” and when I say no, they look at me like I’m alien and insist I take lessons. I have learned to simply admit, “I am not coordinated or athletic.” Still, they insist I take lessons with their wonderful instructor, who will make me learn to enjoy their sport! The truth is, I despise competition and playing ANY sport! I wish I was different that way, but I’m not. I suppose I could force myself to try… but there are so many things I would rather do. Not to mention, I can’t afford lessons anyway.

        Gretchen, I think you are so insightful to propose that we accept ourselves where we are – whether it’s popular or not. Life is too short to “should” on ourselves.

  • I dont completely agree with the idea that I am not in control of what I like to do. That sounds too much like “do what’s easy to do”. I like to learn new things, but with that comes the akward, sometimes embarrasing, knee skinning stuff that most people think they are “too old” for. For example, I’m almost 50 and I’m learning how to kiteboard. Which means I voluntarily strap myself to an oversized kite and in the process of learning how to contol it’s power, I am pulled out of, drug screaming across and usually left for dead in a big body of water. I ask myself (as I’m pulling seaweed out of my bikini top), “do I really enjoy this?” and I say, “no… but, I’m almost there, I can feel it. Then next time I get up on the board, I’m going to ride it like the wind.” And THAT is what keeps me going. DREAMS have to put work clothes on for them to become reality.

  • molly

    I think this must largely be true. Regrettably, I have realized that there are many many things people do that I would love to like doing–skiing, training/running in marathons, water parks/slides, etc. (I know people who have groups of friends and they spend a lot of time with them hanging out, vacationing, etc., even as adults. I always think that looks like it would be nice, but I prefer so much more independence in my daily decisions, and don’t like to be tied down to the group. Still, I regret that I don’t have a “reliable” group who is always up for getting together.) I sometimes I view other people’s interests as being somehow more important or legitimate than my own (I think Gretchen says something to this effect in the Happiness project)– reading, walking/hiking, and posting on happiness blogs:), though I am getting better about this as I get older. A down side here: I think the trick is not to mistake this adage as an excuse not to try new things, or to bypass an opportunity b/c I’m “not that kind of person.” I’ve passed up some opportunities that I think would have boosted my happiness on these grounds.

  • C. Walker

    It wasn’t until about a year ago that I realized it is o.k. to not like jazz or wine. Now I’m proud to say that I love blues and tequila! It only took 44 years :-).

  • Linda

    So you wish you liked something (going to concerts) but don’t, figure out why you don’t. There may be a way to address the why. For example, many people wish they liked classical music but don’t. Taking time to learn how to appreciate it (and I know such music appreciation courses are offered widely) would likely add to the level of enjoyment. Same with fly fishing, tennis, just about anything.

    • gretchenrubin

      This is what I thought for a long time: if I just spent enough time on something, learned enough, I could enjoy it. But in practice, that never really happened.
      But now I think—there are so many things that I love without having to train up for it. I should make time for what I love, which is more than enough to keep me busy—and let go of my fantasy that I can appreciate everything, if only I work at it hard enough.
      That’s been my experience – but your suggestion to “take time to appreciate it” is certainly one that more people follow.

  • peninith1

    I think there’s a ‘sorting hat’ here that says “you can do ANYTHING, but you can’t do EVERYTHING . . . and so you had better do what you LIKE with your free time.” I guess this ‘wishing that I liked’ certain activities is something that I shed many years ago. When I was a pre-teen, I wished to be a great pianist, a ballerina, an astronomer, an archaeologist. I actually took piano lessons, but didn’t love the drudgery of practice all that much. As for the rest, reading about those activities quite satisfied my fantasies about DOING them. Indeed, nothing but reading, writing, art, and making things really kept me happy for hours and days on end, doing them in any way I could. I wished to sew and had to put that off until I had TIME and SPACE and gradually acquired equipment and took LESSONS. The DESIRE to do this thing that I didn’t really know how to do, drove me forward. The other things that I thought I might like to do fell by the wayside, because I wasn’t willing to invest in them the way I have been in my sewing. The things you love to do choose you, and you choose to pursue them with whatever resources you may have. For the seriously talented, getting the resources can be incredibly motivating!

  • Douglas Peacock

    Yes, it seems that God chooses what we like and we choose what we do. We get better results when we can combine the two!

  • Jula

    It requires great assertiveness to say in your corporate work environment where everyone MUST love going to gym “I don’t like gym” , or to the new-age-healthy crowd – “I don’t do yoga”. It requires courage to be ME all the time and say: I love ice cream, I love dancing 5 Rhythms, I like romantic comedies but also dramas with profound meanings, I don’t like going out on Saturday night. There are still many things I would like liking doing but I don’t.

  • SO TRUE. I think that’s one of the most important things to consider when it comes to figuring out who you want to be with. You can’t force yourself to like things that other people like.. it’s so much better to enjoy the same things than to tolerate each other’s passions.

  • therufs

    I like trying new things, so I’d add the caveat that “if you don’t like it at first, give it at least a few more shots before you decide you don’t like it”. I’m learning to play contract bridge right now — the first few sessions were overwhelming, but now when my significant other’s parents invite us over for dinner and bridge, I am extra-excited to go. (Admittedly I had some extra motivation to learn bridge, as SO’s family all play, but I’m glad I got to liking it eventually!)