Easily the biggest problem – in the pursuit of happiness, but also learning, fitness, or just about anything worthwhile – is energy. So many things pull at us, have to be done, need our attention, that little time seems to remain. It is not truly the time that is the problem, though; it’s the energy to overcome inertia: Turning on the TV is much easier than almost anything else, it seems to relax and provide fun – and there is quite enough time for it, apparently. The average American watches some 150 hours of TV (at home, not online videos) a month; the average Canadian 88 hours; British 120 hours. In one recent study on happiness, scientists looked at what happy people actually do. Unfortunately, especially in light of the above, what they found with certainty is that happy people watch less TV (or maybe, people who watch less TV are happier – cause and effect are not clear).
Other studies have more directly looked at the problem of motivation. It is well known – not just to science but also to the people who were objects of the study I’m thinking of – that a walk in the park (or in other green environments, or even just a leisurely walk around the block) would be very relaxing, more so than TV. Yet, the majority of test subjects opted for the choice that meant getting less relaxed, not doing something good for your health, but required less energy to get started. That’s how it goes.
When it comes to bringing our lives in balance with ecology – or even just in balance with our interests and desires – the problem of motivation is particularly strong. Even though the changes we should consider will be positive for us, the lifestyle re-design that is required takes energy. It is much easier to ignore those ideas in favor of the status quo. If change gets imposed, it will come anyways; what better, then, than to live as well, as easily, as possible before things get worse. The easy, comfortable life has its allure, but it is the siren call we just talked about: the pleasure of comfort, which unfortunately translates into a life that is just whiled away, passing by, until you are old and you wonder why you never did anything interesting, challenging, to remember and maybe even be remembered for. Finding what you want to do is one of the most difficult things (in spite of all the calls to find your dream job, learn what you are most interested in, and all that). Dreaming of being rich, living forever and not having any more trouble is a pipe dream, however – the important thing is not usually to be rich, to have comfortable surroundings, but to have a life that is worth it. The challenge, therefore, is to get up and get crackin’. The very call to do what most interests you may be misguided: Start by getting up off your ass and learning, looking around in the world, so that you’ll come across things that interest you. Maybe you’ll even discover that your 9-5 job and your partner and kids are enjoyable and challenging enough for you, and be content to work for a normal existence. Chances are, however, that there will be more than that. Anyways, this is a fascinating world we live in. There is a diversity of peoples, of cultures, and of languages, there are literature and the arts, there is great biological diversity even in the cracks of the pavement, there are foods and dishes that keep you healthy and give you new taste experiences – surely, something to discover, experience, have fun with, if only you learn to see it. That is only done by opening your eyes and starting to get active, however. Never looking left or right will not cut it. Every new activity, every new piece of learning opens up worlds of possibility – new understanding, new experiences. So, get up. Once you make a habit of looking, of learning, it becomes a skill that gets easier and easier. And once the rewards, in terms of a better life, start coming in, it gets easier to overcome inertia, because you know that the hard work of getting started and doing – hard work though it may be – leads to a better, more interesting, life than passivity.
Besides, if there has to be one mantra for the person who takes control over his/her own life, it has to be this: if I fail in an endeavor, at least it’s not for lack of trying at all. Imagine what will make you happy: thinking back over all the experiences you had, all the things you did (or at least tried), or remembering all the chances you might have had, the things you could have tried, but couldn’t get yourself to. I know very well that it’s also a matter of circumstance (and happenstance) what chances you get. Still, if it’s not you yourself who makes the best out of what life deals you, who do you suppose should?