Would a life spent just reading be one worth living? What about a life spent just listening to music? Or even one reading while listening to music? I find there’s a limit to the amount of time I can read. Being depressed, my concentration is poor, and I often find myself distracted while reading. I talked about the importance of focus on meaningful work such as reading as deep work last week. Reading properly takes time and effort, and there’s a limit to how much anyone can do in a day. I’d be interested to hear how long people typically spend reading each day, but I seem unable to manage more than a few hours in total. Even a “light novel” where the reviews say “I finished this in a morning” will take me a week.
I’ve always found reading to be very enjoyable. I remember when I was about ten my mother would tell me to go out and play, but really I wanted to stay in and read. I consumed a great deal of children’s fiction, and reading was what I most wanted to do. Some people my age might remembet the Puffin Club – in retrospect a clever marketing device to get us to consume more books, but I found it a revelation when I was young. Here was something that revered reading.
I learn a lot from reading. I am always entranced by the prospect of the hundreds of unread books on my shelves, and am continually discovering new authors and new books. I can tell I’m seriously depressed when even reading loses its enjoyment and allure. I can imagine a life with every spare moment spent reading – maybe doubling up, and reading while cooking, eating, and even exercising – would be enjoyable and satisfying. And yet … something would be missing.
Yin and yang, good and evil, black and white, Cheech and Chong – we like dualities. What’s the opposite of reading? Writing. What’s the opposite of listening to music? Making music. While reading is largely a passive activity where you consume someone else’s creation, when writing you create words that someone else will read (hopefully). But then a life spent writing would be impossible, for me at least, because I need to read to have something to write about – or at least to know what I am writing about. Sadly you can’t write academic books while just speculating on your inner turmoil. So there is a balance to be found with some writing and some reading. A morning spent writing from the early hours, then exercise, a walk, an appreciation of nature, a little nap, and then the rest of the day reading while listening to music – that would be a pretty satisfying day. A meaningful day. To consume isn’t enough – for me at least. I need to create as well. But people differ and perhaps you disagree; if so let me know below.
I am Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of Dundee, Scotland. I am the author of several books, including the best selling texts "The psychology of language" (now in its fourth edition) and "Talking the talk: Language, psychology and science". I am currently also writing books on the science of consciousness and on the philosophy of science as applied to psychology (the latter with Richard Wilton), with both due to be published in 2017. Several other books are in the pipeline.
My research interests are varied and I have published widely in some of the leading peer-reviewed psychology journals. My interests include language production, how we represent meaning, computer models of the mind, sleep and dreams, consciousness, mental illness, personality and motivation, the effects of brain damage on behaviour, and how the weather influences behaviour.
I believe passionately that scientists, particularly those paid from the public purse, have a duty to explain what they do to that public. I also believe that we can reach a wide audience by the use of social media and new ways of explaining what we do.
In my spare time I use stand-up comedy to talk about my research; a few years ago I appeared at the Edinburgh Fringe. One of the strangest things about being a comic is that I am often severely depressed (as well as anxious and obsessive). I have been on many types of medication, with varying degrees of success. When depressed I am always struck by how pointless everything seems: nothing seems worthwhile, and those things that I usually enjoy (playing the piano - even if not very well, looking at the natural world, reading, watching movies) no longer entice. My interest in things is a very accurate barometer of how well I am. I have realised that some mental illnesses, particularly severe mood disorders, are in part a loss of purpose and meaning in life. Becoming well involves recovering this purpose. I am also very keen to help remove the stigma that still surrounds mental illness.
All of my life I have been puzzled by the question of what is the best way to spend my time. This blog is my search for answer to that question. In it I talk about my life, psychology, mental illness, purpose, living a better life, time management, existential despair, death (making me a death blogger I suppose), being creative, writing, and trying to write when depressed. I try and blog once a week or so; long silences usually mean I'm too depressed to write.
For more information about me, see the home page of my website at www.trevorharley.com. I welcome comments on my blog, or if you prefer you can email me at email@example.com. You can follow me on Twitter at @trevharley.
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3 thoughts on “Input-output”
”………then exercise, a walk, an appreciation of nature, a little nap, and then the rest of the day reading while listening to music – that would be a pretty satisfying day. A meaningful day. To consume isn’t enough – for me at least. I need to create as well. ” . I agree. I think there is an inner creativity in most of us. For example, I don’t write (other than on FB & emails, which don’t really count in my view), but I am fortunate that I can express my limited creativity by working out how best to smash someone’s head in….oops! Sorry, wrong audience (joke!)…I can express my creativity by e.g. working out a hand of cards, playing chess, painting (ever so occasionally & not at all well), taking pictures of scenes I don’t have time to attempt to paint, and..most amazingly after a life time of being told I can’t sing for toffee..doing Choir. That said, show me a car engine or a screwdriver & I break out in a cold sweat, whilst plenty of less-well-educated people look at that reaction with an obvious pity. It’s a fascinating area. As a fellow depressive, I wish you well with yours which I sense is worse than mine (mild – 40mg Citalopram daily keeps me straight).
There is only one person who knows the meaning of their life, and I genuinely believe that dwelling or ruminating on the negative aspects, real or perceived, does nothing but condense, compound, and extend them.
I once saw a client who had recently been inflicted with tinnitus. Yes, it is an annoying condition, but because of what we focus on we amplify, his constant self-pity made his overall condition worse. He was slowly slipping into a state of high stress, and I feared that depression was waiting for him around the corner.
He needed to change his focus, his gloom, and reverse the anhedonia. I invited him to join me for a visit to the local children’s hospice, where we could observe the tragedy of the young dying in pain and distress.
Stunned, he paused and pondered for a minute. He then sincerely thanked me for my insight and wisdom. I am pleased to report that a change of perspective helped him.
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Yes, there’s nothing like a bit of perspective.