“But what is work and what is not work? Is it work to dig, to carpenter, to plant trees, to fell trees, to ride, to fish, to hunt, to feed chickens, to play the piano, to take photographs, to build a house, to cook, to sew, to trim hats, to mend motor bicycles? All of these things are work to somebody, and all of them are play to somebody. There are in fact very few activities which cannot be classed either as work or play according as you choose to regard them.”

–George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier

What is work for you, and what is play for you? For me, as my play, I usually do something involving writing, which is my work — I’m not a well-rounded person. I’ve tried hard to develop non-bookish hobbies, but they never progress very far.

And sometimes my play becomes my work. I’ve been doing a tremendous amount of research and note-taking on the subject of my obsessive interest: color. At some point, perhaps I’ll try to turn that material into an actual book — I’ve even chosen a title, “My Color Pilgrimage.” How delightful, but rare, when work and play converge.

I do love the writing of George Orwell! I’ve read The Road to Wigan Pier three or four times, and I’ve re-read some of my favorite Orwell essays — such as “Reflections on Gandhi,” “Charles Dickens,” and “Such, Such Were the Joys” — even more often. Though, oddly, I haven’t re-read any of his fiction since high school. (Should I?)

What is work for you, that might be play to someone else? And what is play for you, that might be work for someone else?

Of course, conditions matter tremendously. Work that might be enjoyable in some circumstances becomes hideous drudgery in other circumstances.

And choice matters. It matters if you’re doing what you choose to do, when and because you choose to do it. And if you feel that you could do something else, if you wanted to stop.

And money matters. Getting paid for something influences whether we regard it as work or play. In fact, research suggests that if we reward people to do an activity that they’d otherwise do for play, they may begin to view that activity as work — and may not want to do it voluntarily. At the same time, we might enjoy doing something for work that we wouldn’t choose to do for play. And vice versa.

What is work, and what is play?

Gretchen Rubin is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller The Happiness Project—an account of the year she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier—and the recently released Happier at Home and Better Than Before. On her popular blog, The Happiness Project, she reports on her daily adventures in the pursuit of happiness. For more doses of happiness and other happenings, follow Gretchen on Facebook and Twitter.


Image courtesy of Stokpic.