Comments on “Enjoyable usefulness”

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Unsatisfied with enjoyable usefulness

Duckland's picture

The definition of enjoyable usefulness you gave on this page is cryptic to me. I hope you explain when you expand this page. For now, I’ll ask about this from the last page: “what can I do now to be useful and enjoy myself?”

Why enjoyable? And, useful for whom for what?

Someone from a more collectivist oriented society might not highly value personal enjoyment nor (primarily) usefulness for individual gain. In the West we tend to value our enjoyment and usefulness-for-self over duty, usefulness-for-society, etc. This is a caricature but you understand.

When I say “useful for what” I could also ask “useful for what purpose”. Doesn’t saying “useful” presuppose a purpose, objective?

FWIW, have you heard of Cal Newport? He’s a theoretical computer scientist at Georgetown; he also has a blog about productivity, studying, life-hacks, digital minimalism, etc. One of his books is called “So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love”. I get the feeling that there might be significant overlap between his arguments and what you’ll write here.

Rule #1 took on the conventional wisdom about how people end up loving what they do. It argued that the passion hypothesis, which says that the key to loving your work is to match a job to a pre-existing passion, is bad advice. There’s little evidence that most people have pre-existing passions waiting to be discovered, and believing that there’s a magical right job lurking out there can often lead to chronic unhappiness and confusion when the reality of the working world fails to match this dream.

I argued that it’s important to adopt the craftsman mindset, where you focus relentlessly on what value you’re offering the world. This stands in stark contrast to the much more common passion mindset, which has you focus only on what value the world is offering you.

But, he does go on to write about setting a life mission for your work. I’m ambivalent.

In your Tantra and Flow article you suggest Csikszentmihalyi’s solution to find a unifying life purpose is flawed. Where will you fill in that detail? Is completing Meaningness your unifying life purpose or just one mission that’s enjoyably useful?

I’m selfishly a fan of putting the Purpose section towards the top of your queue. Otherwise, do you have books or article recommendations that align with your arguments here?

Pretty much a blank IOU

I’m sorry this section is pretty much a blank IOU currently.

Why enjoyable? And, useful for whom for what?

Enjoyment is good. (By and large.) Usefulness to others is good (by and large).

Those statements are simply the negations of mission and materialism. Mission denies enjoyment; materialism denies… hmm, maybe “usefulness” is not really right word here! Materialism denies “higher purposes,” which often include benefiting other people. But pragmatic usefulness is not quite the point.

“Enjoyable usefulness” is deflationary in the same way the complete stance is (initially) deflationary. The complete stance just says: don’t either fixate or deny meanings. That’s the whole thing… although once you manage to do it, new possibilities open up. Similarly, once you stop doing both mission and materialism, you can develop a better relationship with purposes.

have you heard of Cal Newport?

I hadn’t, thank you! I took a quick look and his site looks relevant and insightful.

The passage you quoted is excellent advice, I think, and very much in the same spirit as what I hope to offer here.

he does go on to write about setting a life mission for your work.

Hmm. That I would be less enthusiastic about. People change, circumstances change, obstacles and opportunities change; one ought to be willing to revise one’s purposes fluidly in response.

Csikszentmihalyi’s solution to find a unifying life purpose is flawed. Where will you fill in that detail?

Well, yes, here, I suppose.

I wrote a lot of draft material for this chapter back in 2006 or so. It needs massive revision and extension, but maybe I ought to try and get at least a fatter stub up here soon! Thanks for the vote for doing that.

Unfortunately, I’ve just checked those notes, and they don’t seem to have anything much to recommend on the topic. Kind of weird, actually, how little seems to have been written on purpose that doesn’t take an eternalist/mission or nihilist/materialist stance!

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