Temporal classification of enjoyment

By | January 4, 2012

While driving back from Akaroa this evening, I got to thinking about enjoyment and time, probably as a result of the flow that navigating windy roads always brings. It seems to me that you can think of enjoyable or otherwise positive experiences as existing in four possible temporal spaces:

  • Before – Looking forward to something is often as enjoyable as doing it. In some cases, experiences seem positive in the future, but negative once they’re done, or while you’re doing them – fish and chips, for example, never tastes quite as good as it seemed when I was paying for it. Similarly, one can be disappointed, perhaps by a bad movie or a corked bottle of wine.
  • During – What we normally mean when we say something is enjoyable. That we are happy or content while doing it. Flow fits in here.
  • Immediately after – A positive feeling immediately after completing a task. For me, exercise is a good example – I feel like crap while I’m doing it, but great afterwards. Similarly, writing a paper or doing the dishes.
  • Far later – Nostalgia, remembering through rose-tinted glasses. Holidays always seem better in retrospect, particularly if you were covered in mosquito bites and sunburn at the time. For me, a trip to Fiji in 1997 fits well here, as I got food poisoning shortly after arrival and spent the whole trip being ill, yet I still have vivid and fond memories of the place we stayed.

Two short observations, then:

  • It’s not necessary that an activity result in positive experiences in each of these four time periods, and in fact, few do. That’s OK, and is maybe good to remember when immersed in a time period that some activity doesn’t perform well in.
  • Innately, we seem to greatly privilege the during time period. It’s good to enjoy oneself while doing something, but during is often much shorter than after. I certainly find thinking about how I’ll feel after I’ve done something to be a great motivator.