While rest helps us slow down and recalibrate, rejuvenating, autotelic experiences help us feel restored and open to new ways of seeing the world. They are at the basis of feeling fulfilled, purposeful, and connected to something larger than ourselves4.
That’s because autotelic experiences don’t happen while churning through another item on our To Do list, or even using our free time to start a creative side hustle. And, even more importantly, they aren’t something we can only do while on vacation or climbing to the top of a mountain. In fact, they happen most often when we are in creative flow (more on what that means here).
Enjoyable, autotelic experiences not only help us feel energized by what’s possible but cultivate the drive to turn it into reality.
Now, I know that taking time to do something you enjoy can feel frivolous (and even impossible) these days. We are constantly forced to optimize all hours—and, when we’re not striving for continuous achievement, our brain feels too drained to do much of anything other than watch a deluge of videos.
But what if I told you that making time for “effortful enjoyment” can not only help us feel better but may also be one of the most productive ways to spend our time? That’s because it allows us to reframe the way we look at our hectic schedules. One study published in 20125 found that university students who helped edit at-risk high school students’ essays for 15 minutes reported having more free time than those who were given permission to leave 15 minutes early. For these students, spending more time on a fulfilling activity helped them feel like their time was more abundant.