Seek Not to Be Entertained

I was enjoying a walk downtown with my son recently, when I noticed something wasn’t quite right. A man was emerging from the background of other pedestrians, trying to make eye contact. We kept walking.

“Excuse Me! Gentlemen! How much are you paying for your Cable TV right now?”

I could now see that he was carrying handful of glossy flyers for one of the monthly television subscription outfits – Dish network or Comcast or whatever. The same stuff that floods my front mailbox  in far greater quantity than my ability to use it as kindling to start the woodstove on winter evenings.

“Nothing”, we both said almost in unison, “We don’t have TV.”

“No TV? What about Netflix? Hulu? TiVo? Google or Amazon? We can beat ’em – first month is FREE!”

“Nope – none of it. Sorry, we gotta go but good luck with your work today!”

The solicitor was left slightly speechless. To be fair, my last line was a slight lie just for the sake of getting out of the sales pitch. We do rent movies from Google Play occasionally, but this mildly stressful street scene made me realize two things:

  1. Fuck, when are these slimy cable TV companies going to let up on their relentless burying of our world in their misleading “first month free” marketing campaigns? The level of promotion is always inversely proportional to the underlying usefulness of the product.
  2. Man, am I really that much of a weirdo, not subscribing to any of these things that everyone else seems to use? Am I depriving my son of  a normal upbringing?

But this bit of introspection goes along very well with a few other things I’ve noticed over the course of this summer. I think of them as a contrast between Mr. Money Mustache and “normal” people, and I have been pondering them for a while, deciding if I should consider becoming more normal myself.

Should You Strive to be Normal?

Normal people seem to be on a constant quest for action and activity. They’ll plan three lunches with friends for next week, and a weekend of drinking and motorboat riding. Every night they’ll watch TV, and on special occasions they will go out for movies, concerts or dash off to the next state to catch a football game or an eclipse. A really successful normal person is almost never at home.

I can definitely relate to the desire for activity. I’m incapable of spending more than an hour on the couch or sitting at the beach. During vacations, I have to find physical work projects to keep myself happily occupied. I’ve discovered that even one day of zero productivity is bad for me: if I stop doing things, I stop wanting to do things, and pretty soon I’m just lazing around on the couch or taking 11 am naps. For me, inactivity leads to a depressive boredom.

Perhaps this is why normal people strive to keep themselves so busy. If you had a choice between “depressed naps on the couch all day” and “busy day including shopping, a lunch date, front-row Denver Broncos seats and then catching the late show at the movie theater”, you might choose the second option.

And even if you don’t have the time or the cash for a big expensive day like that, you might choose “A few hours of highly engaging strategy video games” or “Game of Thrones binge with my boyfriend” over the depressing alternative of Nothing.

Mr. Money Mustache’s Shocking Abnormality

As part of a great shared day of leisure, a friend and I recently dug out and cleared the sewer line at MMM-HQ. To relax afterwards, we upgraded the front door with a complex wi-fi enabled door lock.

Only after carefully studying normal people have I realized my own abnormality. I haven’t had TV service since 1999, and I only catch the most highly-recommended movies from friends about once a month. I love books, but only get through about one of those per month as well – there always seems to be something more pressing than sitting down on the couch to read.

I never understood the joy of watching other people play sports, can’t stand tourist attractions, don’t sit on the beach unless there’s a really big sand castle that needs to be made, don’t care about what the celebrities and politicians are doing, and while I definitely get into live music, it still only happens about once every few months in practice.

Even wholesome outdoor recreation can be hard for me: I enjoy a good hike, but I’d rather hike around as part of volunteering to build a new trail or put up a yurt on a friend’s mountain property. I tried a day of wakeboarding with friends just recently and while it was a thrill to get up on that wave and swim around in the lake, my brain was calling me back to more productive (and less beer-soaked) pursuits the next day.

Instead of all this, I seem to get satisfaction only from making stuff. Or maybe a better description would be solving problems and making improvements.

If I’m visiting your house, we’ll have a boring day if we play board games, but a great one if we rake the leaves and dig some trenches for an irrigation system. Even emptying out your closets so we can organize your stuff and maybe build in a few new shelves would rank higher than passive pursuits.

If you leave me alone for a day (unfortunately quite rare in my current family life), I’ll have a joyful time rotating between carpentry, weight training, writing, playing around with instruments in the music studio, making lists and executing tasks from them.

Ok – Fine for You, Weirdo, but what does this have to do with Me?

It’s already well-known that Mr. Money Mustache has unusual habits. They wouldn’t work for everyone. But you’ll note a few things that most of them have in common:

  • they don’t cost much to do (and some of them even generate money)
  • most of them tend to increase your physical health
  • they’re also good for your mental health and sense of life satisfaction

So, if you already have plenty of money, you should go right on ahead and continue with the more expensive entertainment options. But if you have any use for more money, it could pay very well to at least consider some of the free or profitable things.

If your health and body are already exactly where you want them, it makes sense that you might continue your convenience-based habits like driving around in a car and hiring people to do the dirty work around your house. Walking that 30 minutes a day is giving you exactly the results you want, right? If not, it would seem logical to re-evaluate that leisure time.

And if you already get plenty of mental work done – your to-do list is always completely checked off, tax return is always early, and you understand all your financial accounts perfectly and where the money is going – it makes sense that you’d take a break and  relax with the TV news, or perhaps the Game of Thrones or the Xbox One.

If not, it would only seem logical to shut off this stream of interruptions and open up space for something else.

But Mr. Money Mustache, I Enjoy These Things! Don’t take them away from me!

This is probably the root of the problem, and the difference between an average life and a life of deep, radiant satisfaction.

It doesn’t matter what you enjoy. It matters what’s good for you. I enjoy pumpkin cheesecake and key lime pie, but I only eat them a few times a year.

I also like salads, but let’s be honest, they are not on the same level as Pumpkin Cheesecake. My heart is beating faster just thinking about it right now. But I eat big salads twice a day.

Yet the salads deliver much, much more happiness, because they allow me to continue to run around and explore the world, climbing trees and jumping off rooftops, while the cheesecake would have me in stretch pants and an extra-wide golf cart seat.

It seems obvious when you put it in terms of food. But the same tradeoff applies with all sources of recreation and entertainment. You don’t have to be as compulsive as me, but you do have to make some changes to your habits, if you expect your life to change.

Now with all this puritan advice properly laid down, we can all relax and realize that there are no absolutes – life is a balance. There is plenty of room in life for both productive and unproductive activities. The problem is that most people have the balance tilted too far towards the latter.

So if your life needs a boost, try giving up something you enjoy, and replacing it with something that improves your life.



  • Anonymous February 13, 2019, 8:30 am

    I grew up without television and my husband and I raised our four boys without it, too. We have thousands of books (most bought for pennies at library book sales and thrift stores), and they are now being “checked out” of Grammies library by my grandchildren and their friends. Our boys spent hours out doors, swinging, climbing trees, digging, running, building/dismantling things, and generally having what was a normal childhood fifty years ago.

    From my own childhood, my happiest memories were of tagging along with my grandparents and “helping” with their projects, and learning to do all sorts of handwork with my grandmother. There’s such delight in a sense of accomplishment and a finished project. The main this is that it has to be practiced in order to be enjoyed. Someone who has been raised on a diet of twinkies and chocolate milk may take awhile to adjust to fresh fruits and veggies and pure water, but they will be oh so much healthier and happier if they do so.

    There is an old saying that “virtue is its own reward” and although it can sound smug (as many old maxims do), I believe it’s true. I know I would feel better if I spent more time away from my desk, for example, but haven’t managed it yet. Until I do, I’m going to be creaky. Becoming more aware of what is truly good, and then acting upon it is a journey. I’m working on it!


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