Are You Solving Real Problems?

Sodoku, crosswords, video games, board games, and sports. These are all invented problems. The world doesn’t wake up each morning hoping that someone will solve a crossword. And although I enjoy football, I have to admit the world isn’t meaningfully changed when a dude in shiny pants places a ball in some goal.

Make no mistake, leisure activities are an enjoyable and necessary component of everyday life. But, if you’ve found a calling that clearly improves the lives of others, you’re likely to find non-value added leisure just that: non-value added.

The greatest satisfaction you can obtain from life is your pleasure in producing, in your own individual way, something of value to your fellowmen.
Neil Gaiman

Sure, it’s critical to spend some precious free time refueling. But society has no shortage of real problems to solve. So ask yourself, can I find a leisure time activity that makes the world a little better? Is there a real problem I could solve along the way?

Wasting time is not a waste. In fact, wasting time is a key part of our lives. Wasting time poorly is a sin, because not only are you forgoing the productivity, generosity and art that comes from work, but you’re also giving up the downtime, experimentation and joy that comes from wasting time. If you’re going to waste time (and I hope you will) the least you can do is do it well.
Seth Godin

As a developer, there’s no shortage of value-added and entertaining activities to consider. Record a YouTube video documenting your new approach to automated testing. Volunteer to speak at a local high school about your career in software development. Contribute to an open source project that’s written in a language or framework you’ve always wanted to learn. Organize a give camp in your home town to help out worthy causes that can’t afford development staff. Become a more passionate programmer, improve your code quality, and learn how to work effectively with legacy code.

In “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose“, Tony Hsieh described his simple recipe for happiness:

  1. Perceived control
  2. Perceived progress
  3. Connectedness (Number and depth of relationships)
  4. Vision/meaning (Being part of something bigger than yourself)

Ask yourself, is the way you’re spending your free time truly increasing your happiness? Are your leisure activities increasing your control, connecting you with others, and giving you a sense of meaning? Tweet this Tweet this

That’s a lot to ask from a leisure activity. But if you’ve already found a cause you care about, it’s worth searching for leisure-time activities that orbit around the causes you believe in most.

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