Socially Responsible Lifestyle? It Could Be Fun

SRI investors care about people and the world. I know. I work with a whole group of them. They’re my clients. I’ve experienced many instances in my years of professional practice that revealed that my SRI clients care about me as a person, not just as their financial advisor. My favorites are the times one client or another has called me during a down market to ask how I’m holding up!

I care about my clients as people also (that is, not just as clients). Thinking about them, I was reflecting recently on what it might mean to live a socially responsible lifestyle. Your first thought might be, “Oh no, this doesn’t sound like fun – he’s going to get really serious here.” Well, no. What I want to suggest is that having fun, and having it now, is the way to go.

If you’re like most people, you carefully put off doing something fun—like taking a trip or treating yourself—until you’ve finished your work. Of course, for most people, the work never ends, and the fun gets put off repeatedly.

The hidden assumption behind putting off fun is that you won’t enjoy it if you have uncompleted work to do. But what if research showed that when you put fun ahead of work on your priority list, it is at least as much fun as it would have been in the unlikely case of your finally getting everything cleared off your desk? Is it possible that you’ve been deferring joy for no reason?

One recent experiment suggests this might be so.* Working adults were given two assignments: a strenuous battery of cognitive tests and a fun iPad game that involved creating and listening to music. Some were assigned the cognitive tests first, others started with the iPad game, and they were asked beforehand how much fun they expected to have.  

The beforehand responses suggested exactly what you would think: people in the
“play first” category predicted lower enjoyment ratings than participants in the “play after” group. But when asked the same question after they had completed both activities, the participants reported equally high enjoyment, regardless of the order. Play first participants enjoyed themselves just fine.

Other similar experiments have yielded similar results. Having fun before all the work is done is, well, just as much fun! If your definition of “responsible” has you working too hard and continually putting off doing things that provide fun and enjoyment, you have company. American workers work longer hours and take fewer vacations than anyone in the industrialized world. Most of them are unhappy with work-life balance, leave paid vacation days on the table, and wish they could find more time for fun. Studies suggest, however, that leisure improves our work.  People often work better and are more satisfied with their jobs after returning from restful breaks. We might keep postponing doing something fun for “the right time,” only to realize that it never seems to come.

So, one suggestion for a socially responsible lifestyle is: Have fun now. Your work will likely improve, and you really will enjoy yourself, and your life, more.

In my next blog, I’ll offer another suggestion for a responsible lifestyle: Meditate. 

*See “Stop Putting Off Fun for After You Finish All Your Work,” by Ed O’Brien, Harvard Business Review, July 7, 2017. Blog adapted from a Bob Veres draft, with permission.