Feeling peaky?

Like Rich and Queen, I realised with amazement this morning that I had never invoked Guardian journalist Oliver Burkeman in any of my posts on this venerable blog (and, like Rich and Freddie’s boys, all it took was a little further reflection to remember that I actually had).

I’m a man who’s fond of saying – to whoever will pretend to listen – that if I had my time again I would be a psychologist. Or a theologist; as far as I can tell they amount to pretty much the same thing. (As an aside: I do wish people would resist the urge to turn careers adviser at these times and say things like “Well it’s never too late you know…” – if it was a genuine aspiration I would’ve done something about it, okay?) And I’ve yet to find anyone better able than Mr. Burkeman at cutting through the claptrap of popular psychology and zoning in on the nuggets of genuine insight, interest and clarity that do exist.

Take this, for example: apparently there is a very well-established psychological phenomenon called ‘peak-end-effect’, whereby we remember and judge our experiences, whether good or bad, not in their entirety but according to how they felt at their emotional peak, and at the end. So we are less likely to remember positively a holiday, say, that was six days of relaxed low-key loveliness but which featured a blazing albeit short and isolated family row on the third day and horrendous traffic jams on the way home. This may explain why one of my most memorable holidays was the one that included me projectile vomiting in a caravan in Dorset after a dodgy fish’n’chip supper.

Or, in last Saturday’s column, a thought-provoking piece on how we’re guilty of confusing ‘work’, which when defined as ‘productive effort’ is truly rewarding, with ‘paid employment’, which can never, in and of itself, be fulfilling. As Burkeman puts it:

In reality, your work and employment may overlap partly or wholly. The benefit lies in making the mental separation […] ask what work you find fulfilling – it needn’t be some grand calling – then figure out paid employment’s role in facilitating it. Maybe your goal will be a job that fulfils you – or a less mentally taxing one to finance non-job work. Maybe doing your favourite work for money would turn a passion into a chore. Even if you’re in no position to change your job, knowing why you’re really doing it – and what not to demand from it – can instil a sense of clarity and autonomy.

Such is my admiration for Oliver Burkeman’s mind that I took advantage, whilst drunk, of the fact that he includes his email address at the end of his articles, to write an email of admiration whilst on the night bus home. And he replied!


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Man of letters & numbers; also occasionally of action. Husband to NTW. Dad of three. Friendly geek.

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