Why Do We Choose to Do Difficult Things for Fun?

What compels us to take up hobbies or pursuits that are sometimes difficult or even painful?

Photo Credit: Sasquatch I via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Sasquatch I via Compfight cc

It’s a question my husband has asked me a few times about my desire to write stories, most often when I complain about how hard it can be. There are just times when characters don’t come to life as you imagine them or the plot isn’t working out or there’s some other problem to be solved.

He wonders aloud where the enjoyment is in doing something I don’t have to do if it requires so much effort and sometimes produces frustration that borders on despair that I won’t be able to finish what I’ve started (or if I do, it will just be rubbish). I mean, let’s be honest: the odds of me producing a novel-length piece and getting it published is pretty much the same as winning lotto. So why? Why spend so much time and mental energy on a gamble where the odds are very much against winning? I try to explain the thrill when the words land just write on the page or a character just starts talking and doing things, seemingly on their own. Or when you have that flash of inspiration on how to solve a tricky plot problem. But he’s not a writer (or really much of a fiction reader), so much of this, I suspect doesn’t resonate.

At first pass, we seem to be very different people, or at least people who enjoy very different pastimes. I’m a bookworm and a word nerd who is fascinated by the art and craft of storytelling, whereas I think he’s read maybe 3 books in the 20+ years we’ve been together and frequently abuses and misuses the English language. He’s an athlete and a sports fan who is fascinated by the skill and strategy of playing the game, whereas I never really played a team sport until I met him, much of the strategy of game play goes over my head, and just this year finally learned what the heck a west coast offense is.

He came home yesterday with several blisters on his hand from batting practice, some of which had burst as he swung the bat. Ouch! I thought, where’s the joy in that, in doing something for fun that physically hurts you? And all of this for a recreational softball league.

Let’s face it – he’s not a high school or college kid playing his heart out in the hopes of attracting the attention of a scout and I’m not a 20-something hoping to attract the attention of the movers and shakers in the literary world. So why we do it?

I think we derive pleasure that comes purely from the satisfaction of doing something that’s hard. We do these things not because they aren’t hard, but precisely because they are. The reward doesn’t lie in recognition, it lies in overcoming the challenge of doing whatever it is, be it completing a novel or winning a game.

Turns out, we’re not so different after all. 🙂

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