This past Christmas, my younger brother decided he didn’t want his Xbox One anymore, so he generously let me have it. Having not played in at least 5 years, I was excited to buy the game “Halo 5”, to relive the fun of playing with my friends and other brother. I had played earlier versions of Halo in high school into early college, but eventually I had no time for games due to coursework and jobs. Now that things had settled down and I once again had a game console, I could enjoy the hobby again.
For the next month and a half, I played almost obsessively, passing most evenings after work playing online, enjoying the time as I expected I would.
As the weeks passed, however, I started feeling a nagging discontentment with the amount of time I was spending on the Xbox. Sure, I liked the game well enough, and the extra time hanging out online with friends I don’t get to see often was great. If I was just spending a half an hour or an hour per night playing, that would have been perfectly fine. But, I found myself hooked, sometimes spending entire evenings of 3 or 4 hours playing.
Eventually, I realized that this habit, if continued, would lead me away from becoming the type of person I wanted to be. It’s not that video games are somehow bad, it’s just that for me they absorbed hours I could have been devoting to growing as a human being. I wasn’t satisfied with being merely entertained night after night because it was leading me to feel justifiably melancholy. It’s as if our minds are attention-hungry toddlers that will lash back against us emotionally if we ignore them. So, I decided I would give myself a reading challenge to deviate my attention from games to a more intellectually productive endeavor.
This has been working well so far. I’ve read 6 books so far totaling over 2500 pages. More important to me than any quantitative accomplishment, however, is the deep level of satisfaction that comes from challenging myself to learn and grow. It’s a much more profound and holistic level of happiness than can be achieved by mere passive entertainment.
This same type of satisfaction is naturally achieved by any number of productive endeavors: fixing up a car, renovating your house, creating a piece of art, writing a book, developing a program, planting a garden, practicing an instrument, learning a language, or cooking a good meal. Your body likes to reward you emotionally when you improve a skill or learn new things about the world around you. When you unlock a new concept in your mind or create something new out of other materials/ideas, you are fulfilling some of the most natural and deep desires we have as human beings.
Conversely, when we spend time passively consuming other people’s work, we tend to feel internally restless. We’re not creating or contributing anything to ourselves or others. Watching TV or movies, shopping aimlessly, surfing Facebook or YouTube, and playing video games are all fun activities, but when we give too much time to them, we don’t feel truly happy.
I encourage you to evaluate your daily habits to consider which ones are constructive and satisfying, and which ones are passive, leading to feelings of discontentment when done excessively. Please don’t misunderstand – I’m not advocating being a workaholic or feeling obligated to devote every waking second to productive activities. But I do think it’s healthy to evaluate whether our habits are in line with the version of ourselves that we’d like to be in the long run.