To be happy, I need to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth – Gretchen Rubin's First Splendid Truth.
I am my most content when I nurture my personal growth. And acknowledging this makes me feel proud. However, it’s not always been like this, only recently have I gone through this shift in what I value doing in my free time.
Most of my life so far (i.e the time spent in formal education), I felt pushed to learn things that I didn’t have much interest in. And I think that subconsciously this has led me develop an adversity towards learning, which made me want to spend my free time, effortlessly pursuing instant gratification, such as consuming ready-made content in which I didn’t have to engage much. This tendency continued after I finished formal education, when lounging on a couch to watch a TV series or read a book in the comfort of a clean home encompassed my idea of happiness. However, the sense of joy derived from these activities was, to a great extent, externally driven and therefore not fully satisfying, as I was dependent on these external sources of entertainment.
Nonetheless, at the back of my mind, I always thought that I should spend my free time more wisely: learning and creating something new, putting my mind at work and my imagination to good use. However, this superior thought was suppressed for a long time by the mediocre apprehension of the effort involved in learning and creating. This was further strengthened by the potential discontent I knew I would feel upon realising that I can’t rise up to my own challenge(s), which, in my mind, would have rendered the new pursuit a waste of time. I wasn’t wise enough to embrace the fun of failure. I will never be able to produce music like true artists do, so what’s the point of trying to learn to play an instrument, I would think. I will never be able to sell my craftwork and making anything by hand takes a long time, so why bother? The purpose-maximiser in me wouldn’t allow me to pursue activities for activities’ sake, for fear that I would end up experiencing that crushing feeling of having wasted my time.
However, as I allowed myself to wander and explore, I found many things that excited my mind and my spirit - things that I had never done before but which I was keen to try and do. In a self-propelling manner, this strengthened in me a curiosity and desire to learn and nurture myself. That's how, one day, I decided to take up knitting, brush up on my French and learn to play the piano. With each of these activities I experienced the fun of failure, which made the process of learning even more rewarding .... when I stopped failing.
I love learning because it teaches us to be humble, to acknowledge our inferiority before the thing(s) that we want to learn. Anything that is not yet known or understood seems bigger than us at first. I often find myself sitting in front of the piano feeling like an apprentice before its master.
The sweetest part in the process of learning is the settling phase, which takes place after several repetitions from the initiation stage. That's when I get the first hints that I am starting to get the grasp of whatever I am trying to learn. This brings me the reassurance that I am on the right path and that I can mold myself. Of course, the mastery phase is the most rewarding one, where I feel the joy of having arrived at my destination, the satisfaction that all my efforts have paid off.
Furthermore, learning teaches discipline and resilience – anything that we want to learn seems difficult before it is absorbed in our sphere of understanding. This might make us feel uncomfortable, as our intrinsic predilection for leisure makes us want to initially reject the unknown – the very thing that stretches our mind and helps us grow. This is when our superior selves help us to build stamina, to persevere in the act of learning, in spite of how uncomfortable and inferior learning makes us feel at first.
The act of learning helps us transform and redefine ourselves, to give new nuances to our personalities. When we learn we find pleasure in things that we would have never thought would appeal to us. For instance, I was surprised when I discovered I yearn to be able to speak better French or improve my programming skills, because I always felt a disdain for these fields as something that I wouldn’t be able to master which slayed any enthusiasm I had for them. Also, as I allowed my mind the freedom to experience new things in my free time, I became a runner, a yogi, a knitter, a blogger, a cook and a piano player.
To stimulate my mind, to learn new things, to nurture my mind and soul – this is what I pursue in my time of freedom, as it gives me the feeling of leading a richer life. And I encourage you to create an atmosphere of growth for yourself, too, where you can retreat whenever you feel like indulging in some food for thought.