Pleasure and mastery: Two kinds of activities are better than one

In this article, I discuss why it is important to include both pleasure and mastery activities in your routine.


Estimated reading time: 3 minutes.

In my work as a Calgary psychologist and a Cochrane psychologist, I encourage my clients to have two types of activities in their spare-time routines–pleasure and mastery. Pleasure activities are enjoyable and relaxing ones which help you to de-stress and typically do not involve performing or being evaluated. These can be individual pleasure activities like meditation, listening to music, watching a movie or reading a novel. Pleasure activities can also include social interaction such as having coffee with a friend or going to a movie with a group.

Mastery activities are those which entail performance of a task which requires use of your skills and talents. Common mastery activities are physical exercise, individual and teams sports, singing and playing a musical instrument, acting, dancing for performance, carpentry and working on cars to name just a few. Mastery activities may be enjoyable but they often require effort and concentration along with performance and evaluation elements. As such, they are typically less relaxing than pleasure activities. Their main benefit is the boost to self-esteem you derive from working toward a goal and accomplishing it. They allow you to feel good about yourself while you apply your talents and skills to pursuits you find stimulating and challenging.

Both pleasure and mastery activities should be included in your spare time routine for optimal emotional health and happiness. To illustrate their value, in the following sections I will discuss scenarios in which one or both of these types of activities is missing from your routine. I will then contrast these with the scenario in which you have the best of both worlds working for you—when both pleasure and mastery activities are featured in your weekly schedule.

No pleasure or mastery

This is the worst case scenario in which your routine is devoid of both kinds of activities—those which bring enjoyment and relaxation along with those which are good for your self-esteem. Not surprisingly, people are prone to experiencing depression in this scenario.  Moving toward including even one of the two types of activities in your routine is an improvement to aim for in this situation.

Pleasure without mastery

Having pleasure activities without mastery activities is better than having neither in your routine. The pleasure activities and enjoyment and are helpful in managing stress. However, your self-esteem takes a hit because of the absence of mastery activities. This is often the case when people retire from careers in which they regularly engaged in activities using their skills and talents then suddenly find that they have no such activities in their retirement.

Mastery without pleasure

On the other hand, a routine filled with mastery activities but no pleasure activities is good for your self-esteem. However, this combination makes it challenging to manage stress because of the lack of time provided for enjoyable and relaxing activities. This is often the scenario with adults and children who have their non-work and extracurricular schedules respectively dominated by performance activities of various kind, leaving little time for enjoyment and relaxation.

Pleasure and mastery—a winning combination

Balancing your spare time activities between pleasure and mastery is the best recipe to follow. Mastery activities help you to have your self-esteem in a good place while adding passion and excitement to your routine. Pleasure activities give you a chance to enjoy yourself and recharge your physical, cognitive and emotional batteries. So my advice is to include both pleasure and mastery activities in your schedule so that you can look forward to having good moods and thinking positively about yourself.

May you include both pleasure and mastery activities in your schedule,

-Dr. Pat

About the Author:

Feeling Challenged? Work with a psychologist who knows how to overcome challenges… Depression, anxiety, stress & other psychological issues may seem as daunting as completing a marathon. My approach to “Plan, Take Action & Track Progress”, has helped 100s of clients and is the same approach I used to succeed in the Boston Marathon & Ironman Canada.

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