Compulsively and Without Joy

The Big Lebowski is one of my favourite movies.

I could go on – at length – about why. Although I’m not going to, so this GIF will have to suffice:

via GIPHY

One quote from the film that’s always stuck with me is “compulsively and without joy“.

I’m not sure why, perhaps there’s just something about the wording. For whatever reason, the phrase wiggled its way into my brain and has lived there ever since.

And I’m pretty pleased about that, because it turns out this particular quote is useful.

via GIPHY

I do a lot of things automatically. We all do. Our brains are basically habit machines – they find a set of behaviours which more-or-less work, and then they repeat them automatically, unless there’s a LOT of evidence they ought to change.

For our many good habits (breathing, eating, smiling, whatever), this is a good thing.

But each of us doubtlessly have some bad habits too. Do you ever find yourself tabbing back-and-forth between the same few websites? Or flicking around tv channels endlessly, looking for something to watch? Checking the fridge?

In short, do you ever repeat the same old activities over-and-over, over-and-over, over-and-over… compulsively, and without joy?

I do.

via GIPHY

The phrase “compulsively and without joy” is helping me to recognise these behaviours when they happen.

Sometimes when I’m stuck in a Facebook-Twitter-News-Facebook-Twitter-News website loop, the phrase “compulsively, and without joy” suddenly bubbles into my awareness and I realise what I’m doing.

Thanks to this, I’ve set myself a rule:

If I realise that I’m doing something “compulsively, and without joy” then I HAVE to stop.

That’s my rule. No compulsive, joyless behaviours allowed.*

So far, I have a 100% success rate of stopping. Apparently, I can’t convince myself to continue with an unhelpful habit when I’ve admitted to myself that I’m doing it totally joylessly.

“Why am I checking this website, again? Oh…”

I have a much lower success rate for noticing the bad habit in the first place. That’s the tricky bit. Sometimes I check my phone ten times before I realise I’m just on autopilot.

But I’m confident I can get better at that, too.

Why don’t you try it? Keep an eye out for things in your life that are “compulsive and without joy” – and see if you can stop whenever you catch yourself.

Good luck, and much joy to you.

via GIPHY

* NB: I’m not using the word ‘compulsive’ in the sense of OCD-compulsive here, but in the weaker sense of ‘joyless habits’. I suspect that the idea behind this post is more useful for things like habitual phone-checking than for stronger compulsions.


No rugs with important room-tying properties were harmed in the production of this post.

Don’t forget to watch my TED talk, if you haven’t already!

Check out the Book for Anxious Humans, which explores anxiety and happiness through embarrassing real-life stories, fantasy fiction, thought-provoking discussion and terribly-drawn doodles.

Like us on Facebook, for more thoughts on happiness.

Read the whole series on Anxiety here.

5 comments

Skip to comment form

  1. Wow you make a good point here. I am not sure I want to know how much of my day is spent doing mindless tasks compulsively and without joy. But now I am going to pay attention!

    • Wes Grunden on 3rd June 2016 at 10:07 pm

    “compulsively, and without joy” sounds like the start of getting stuck in a rut. A friend of my says the only difference between a rut and a grave is how deep you dig it.

  2. Ha, that’s a great observation! Thanks Wes, I’m going to remember that one for future 🙂

  3. Excellent. You have made me more aware of some of my meaningless daily rituals. I have to remember to remember those four words. It may be a real use case for some strategically located post-its

  4. Thanks James! That’s fantastic to hear, I love when some insight can lead to an actual implementation. Would be interested to hear if the post-its turn out to be useful for you – and I would regard breaking out of even one useless loop only once to be useful. Thanks for sharing, and welcome 🙂

Make me happy: tell me what you think!

Your email address will not be published.