Carl Cederström and André Spicer, authors of The Wellness Syndrome, spent a year researching and applying the principles of self-optimisation, a growing movement that seeks to enhance everything from productivity to creativity. Desperately Seeking Self-Improvement is a funny and eye-opening account of their year, and a sharp critique of today’s culture of competitiveness. In this extract, Cederström attempts to optimise his pleasure.
Over the course of the last ten days, I had trained myself to do nothing, and I loved it. Following the art of idleness had proved much more effective in bringing peace of mind than all the meditation and yoga and mindfulness I had tried in May.
For my last day, in an attempt to optimize idle pleasure, I was going to design the perfect day. I had made a schedule in advance, based on [Tom] Hodgkinson’s book How to Be Idle. I woke up at about nine, without the help of an alarm, and slowly walked from the smaller guesthouse into the main house, where I wrote for an hour. Writing was the one “productive” activity that the idler approved of. At around ten, my wife and daughter came up and we had a long and delightful breakfast together, out on the terrace, listening to Art Pepper, staring into the sun. It was beginning to get hot now, and we walked the few hundred meters down to the small beach and swam and read. At noon, we drove to a nice restaurant by the sea for a long lunch.
When we came back home, I sat down on the terrace to read in the shade. I was getting tired now. My mother shouted from the other house, asking if I wanted a cup of coffee. I said no, because I had learned that coffee in the afternoon was an abomination to the true idler. I retreated into the bedroom for an afternoon nap. “You must sleep some- time between lunch and dinner,” Hodgkinson advised, “and no halfway measures.”
It was three o’clock, and I was pleased to note that I had kept to my carefully designed “pleasure schedule.” My daughter woke me up a few moments later. I was feeling refreshed and we walked down to the sea for another swim. It was warm and peaceful and we stayed there for a long time. I checked my schedule again. It was five o’clock and time for an afternoon walk. “The pedestrian is the highest and most mighty of beings,” I had learned, “he walks for pleasure, he observes but does not interfere, he is not in a hurry, he is happy in the company of his own mind, he wanders detached, wise and merry, godlike.”
Godlike, I strolled along the gravel roads. The birch trees whistled in the wind, and a few birds were singing in the distance. I turned onto a smaller path, walked down to the sea, and sat on a rock.
I had loved the lazy days of noble inactivity
Forty minutes later, I passed my sister’s house. From the road, I could see her husband in the kitchen preparing dinner. It was my turn to cook, but I had masterfully shirked that responsibility. I sped up a tiny bit, hoping they would not see me. Which was when I heard a bicycle behind me, and someone clearing his throat. I twisted around and saw my neighbor. Shit! He was there to pick up a crib from my sister, and he probably needed help to carry it back home. I sped up some more, pretending I had not seen him. He was one of the model citizens out here. His lawn was always perfectly mowed, and he painted his house regularly. As the road turned and I disappeared from his sight, I could relax again.
At six o’clock, I was back at my sister’s place, still on schedule and having my first drink, followed by a wonderful dinner and more drinks.
The month had been terrific, from start to end. I had cherished the smoking and the drinking and the life of the decadent. I had enjoyed the days spent cooking. And I had loved the lazy days of noble inactivity. It dawned on me that being idle was really my type of spirituality. I made a note to myself to discontinue my expensive subscription to the mindfulness app and to start integrating the philosophical principles of idleness into my life.
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