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Things won are done;
joy’s soul lies in the doing.
OUR NATURE IS SUCH THAT WE DERIVE A DEEP SATISFACTION FROM “DOING.” We are workers, and despite our occasional complaints to the contrary, we basically enjoy the act of working. It’s not just that we enjoy the accomplishment of “having done” certain things, and it’s not just that we enjoy the rest and recreation that come after we’ve engaged in “doing” — we actually enjoy the doing itself, at least under normal circumstances. There is a deeply felt, wholesome sense of rightness that comes from being in the midst of doing.
The joy of doing, however, depends to a large extent on whether we’re doing our best. The old saying that “anything worth doing is worth doing well” is a reminder that there is some worth or value in well-doing, and a part of the worth is the joy that comes from it. Simply put, it feels good to be actively involved in high-quality work.
Yet even doing our best is not enough. It’s also important to inquire whether what we’re doing is good and right. As Gore Vidal commented, “There is nothing more debasing than the work of those who do well what is not worth doing at all.” So we must make sure our doing is aligned with principles of proven worth. Unprincipled work, no matter how high the quality, is much better off left undone.
But, as Montaigne said, “Saying is one thing and doing is another.” In the present age of information, we are inundated with words. Talk is everywhere. But as someone long ago said, “Talk is cheap,” and we need to be careful not to let talk substitute for doing. The joy of doing comes not from promising to do but from doing what we promise, so we need to follow through and do what we say.
If there’s another problem that’s characteristic of our age, however, it’s that we often rush through our doing so hurriedly that we lose out on any enjoyment that it might provide. How much better it would be if we did our “doings” more thoughtfully. If we’d take the time to “taste” the things we do, we’d often find them very gratifying.
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)