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!
* Sign up for the Moment of Happiness, and every weekday morning, you’ll get a happiness quotation in your email inbox. Sign up here, or email me at gretchenrubin1 at gmail dot com.
Get monthly newsletter updates from Gretchen.
Dive into The Blog
More Posts For You
Find out if you’re an Upholder, Obliger, Questioner, or a Rebel.
The Four Tendencies explain why we act and why we don’t act. Our Tendency shapes every aspect of our behavior, so understanding your Tendency lets us make better decisions, meet deadlines, suffer less stress and burnout, and engage more effectively.