A popular refrain from writers is that they don’t enjoy writing, but they enjoy having written. I find this is true for so many things in life. There’s the joy we experience while doing a thing, and then there’s the joy of having done the thing. The “have had” pleasure.
Exercise is a good example. Some exercise I love in the moment, especially if there’s a sport involved. Other exercise (like hot yoga) makes me miserable while I’m doing it, but afterward I feel so good that I wonder why I don’t do it more often. It’s difficult to commit to these “have had” types of pleasure, even when we know the reward will be worth it. That’s why I often say you have to force yourself to get started (sit down in front of your story. Or get the yoga mat out and just lay on it and stretch). Once you get a taste of the “have had,” you can often push yourself to keep going.
Where it gets tricky is with diminishing returns. There was a lot of joy in sailing across the Pacific Ocean. There was also a thrill in having had done it. No one can take that accomplishment away. I would enjoy doing it again, in the moment, but would I enjoy the “have had” aspect? Probably not. I don’t think I’d feel anything extra from having done it twice.
This can be a challenge for writers, especially if their best work comes from the “have had” type of excitement. For me, this was overcome by not telling the same story over and over. Or even by exploring new genres. With exercise, it comes from shaking up the routine now and then. Or setting different goals.
These are just different tools to motivate ourselves. We have to find the things that will give us long term contentment and pride (the “have had” pleasures), and also find ways to enjoy the journey until we get there. Just as importantly, we have to understand when and how these two types of pleasure decouple for each of us so we don’t get stuck pursuing the wrong experiences.
What makes you happy? How are you managing your time so you experience more of that? And how can you tweak the necessary things in life to derive more joy from them? I listen to podcasts on my commute and while I’m folding laundry or doing the dishes, because I learn from podcasts and so I get a huge “have had” pleasure from them. Music gives me more pleasure in the moment, but it doesn’t last. What about you?