Christina Crook on the joy of “good burdens” and why laziness is the antithesis of love
What are Good Burdens? Why do we need them? And what is the relationship between laziness, love and technology?
In this episode, we welcome Christina Crook, a leading voice in the field of digital well-being. As the author of the award-winning book, The Joy of Missing Out, and the leader of the global #JOMO movement, she interviews other mindful tech leaders as the host of the JOMOcast and leads the JOMO Membership – Navigate – focusing you on the wisest investment of your time online to help you live more deliberately and experience more joy.
Her new book, Good Burdens: How to Live Joyfully in the Digital Age will be available in November 2021.
In this episode we discuss:
- the concept of Good Burdens
- the relationship between laziness, love, and attention
- the algebra of joy and how it relates to technology
Host and Producer: Georgie Powell
Christina Crook: This is the question, right? This is my entire life, is like in one question. But no big deal. I actually didn’t go to the dictionary definition of the word joy until years after The Joy Of Missing Out was written. The Merriam-Webster’s definition of joy is “well-being and success”.
So I have come up with this concept of the algebra of joy, which is joy and happiness. We can get to the discussion about, “Are they the same thing?” But I’m going to go with joy.
Joy is my happiness word, but joy is well-being plus success. Success can be a dirty word, right? And well-being has also become one of those like, “What does that mean anymore?”
Georgie Powell: It means dollars.
Christina: Yes, exactly, exactly. But, the way I define well-being is having a positive relationship with your abilities and your limits. So, happiness, to me, as it relates to technology, is being online and being okay with my abilities and being proud of them, but also okay with my limits.
Georgie: Welcome to Freedom Matters, where we explore the intersection of technology, productivity, and digital wellbeing. I’m your host, Georgie Powell. Each week, I’ll be talking to experts in productivity and digital wellness. I’ll be asking them three questions to get to the heart of what productivity means to them.
This week, I’m in conversation with Christina Crook. Christina is a leading voice in the field of digital wellbeing, the author of the award-winning book, The Joy Of Missing Out: Finding Balance In A Wired World, and leader of the JOMO Movement.
Her purpose is to help people focus their time online, so that they can live more deliberately and experience more joy. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Psychology Today, and on the BBC. Her new book, Good Burdens: How To Live Joyfully In A Digital Age, releases in November of this year.
You can find a pre-order link in today’s show notes. Today, we’ll be talking about good burdens, and the relationship between technology and joy.
Christina, thank you so much for joining us today on the Freedom Matters podcast. It’s an absolute pleasure to have you with us.
Christina: I’m thrilled to be here today.
Georgie: It’s really nice to reconnect after a few years of craziness and to hear everything you’ve been up to and just to hear that you’re still really inspired by everything you’re doing.
So where I wanted to start, really, was with your latest endeavor, which quite how you’ve managed to pull this off with three children in the middle of a pandemic is just, I think, in itself a miracle. But I know you’ve got a new book that you are in the process of finishing right now, and it will be coming later in the year, and so I’d love to talk to you a little bit about that. The title is Good Burdens. Perhaps you could tell us a little bit about where the concept came from, why it’s important to you, and really what the theory is of this wonderful book.
Christina: Thank you. Yes, the concept of good burden –it’s actually a philosophical concept that comes from a professor at the University of Montana, and he’s been the deepest influence on my, I would say, my philosophy, but also my theology of technology, my approach to, my personal practices, but also the ways in which I teach others.
That is, of course, technology being in its proper place, that technology is not neutral, it’s an inducement, it induces us to action in some way.
His name is Dr. Albert Borgmann. He’s now 83 years old. He is a delight and a joy, and he came up with this concept of good burdens probably more than 30 years ago now. The basic idea is that technology is always trying to liberate us, right? That’s the big promise. We’re going to liberate you from labor and work and inefficiencies, right?
So his basic argument is that there are certain burdens that we should not want to be rid of. A big core one would be the burden of relationship. You’re married, you have children, so am I. I’m a sister to seven siblings.
It’s crazy. Relationships are the most beautiful and the most burdensome part of life. Should we want to be rid of them? Of course we don’t because they are, and, of course, this is a central premise of my work, they’re our greatest source of joy. What brings you most joy?
People will talk about beautiful experiences, nature, oftentimes, or most often, their experiences away from our screens, interestingly. But it’s so often comes back to relationship, and so this book is about the good burdens that we should not want to be rid of.
The basic idea is that, of course, we want to be free of burdens, but the concept is once you get across a certain threshold of effort, once you’ve gone through the work of, let’s say, cooking, setting the table to enjoy a meal with loved ones, that’s a burdensome thing. But once you get to cross a certain threshold of effort, the burden disappears.
So this book is all about what good burdens do we want to carry, what things ground us, what things bring us joy, so that we can live well, with the pull and enticement of our digital world. So it’s like the counter balance. The balance word is always, it’s not my favorite word, technology “balance”, “tech-life balance”.
Christina: To simplify the concept of the book, that is what we’re talking about, is how do we live well online, and then what are these grounding, good burdensome things that keep us attached to the real world?
Georgie: I was interested to understand the concept of good burdens further. Are the individual, or do similar tasks ground us all? Christina explained, “Good burdens are as much of a mindset and a way of life as a list of daily tasks.”
Preparing a meal and sitting around with your family is a great example. What other examples do you talk about? Is it personal, or is there a list of concepts or ideas that are good to go.
Christina: Yes. Each chapter is around a state of being, actually, and so gratitude can be a burdensome thing in the sense that you have to be very attentive to the things around you, so being grateful or being here.
I have a whole chapter on being where you are physically in a body, which we’re always being pulled out of that, that embodied state when we are online, disengaging, right? Our neural pathways not our full selves.
So being here, and I actually talk in my book about my own struggles with being in a place online, wanting to escape online, having personal anxieties that make me want to not show up in a full way.
And really, the joy that I have discovered in fully showing up to my professional life, my creative life, and my relationships, it’s way more fun, it’s way more rewarding than just going through the motions online and keeping tabs with people on social media, for example, or by email, but really showing up to those vulnerable conversations, those real-life interactions that are scary, because people are wildcards.
Our online environments are so controlled, but people in the real world are intrinsically unpredictable.
So, yes, so the example of gathering our table is a good burden. A good burden would be, in my case, writing a book, taking on a huge new project in the midst of a pandemic, with children, and saying, “This is good work I need to give myself to. The time is now, and I’m going to carve away the unessential things to take on this big, big burden.”
But I have to tell you, Georgie, how much incredible joy there has been in that. When you’re deeply focused, and you’re pushing through on big projects, there’s such great reward. I know that’s such a core premise to freedom and the work that you guys do, right? Yes.
Georgie: So much of my conversation with Christina reminded me of our discussion with Joanna Rakoff just a few weeks ago. Two very successful women with big young families who had found fulfillment and flow in their work by dedicating themselves with passion to what they do.
In her own podcast, JOMO(cast), Christina interviews Albert Borgmann to discuss good burdens. Along the way, they reflect on the idea that laziness is the antithesis of love.
This idea resonated with me, and it is evident in the way that Christina, too, lives her life. I wanted to understand more. What is the relationship between laziness, love, and, crucially, attention?
Christina: Oh, my goodness, this is such a good question. This idea that laziness is opposite of love, I have to give credit to Scott Peck in his book, The Road Less Traveled.
That was a book I read last year, and it changed my life. It changed my life because I do have– I think we all, right? The ego, our ego likes to be in control, and our ego will have maybe a sense of entitlement. My ego does, a sense of entitlement, the desire for things to be easy. When I read that line from him, that laziness is the opposite of love, it was such a big wake-up call, like, “Holy smokes.”
I started making these connections also through a conversation with Dr. Ellen Langer from Harvard, who’s considered the mother of mindfulness. I started making these connections between attention and effort, because love is effortful, right? It’s love in action.
You can say, “I love you,” but if you spend no time with that loved one and I’ll just use a really tangible example. My son, this morning, seven years old, he wanted help. Like you were saying, it’s like the 40-hour a week in blocks, that’s happening in my life.
He needed some help going outside and taking some photos for a spring project that he’d been just assigned for school. I could have been like, “Oh, yes, that’s nice. But anyways, I have to run upstairs, work on my computer.”
But I actually did have a little bit of margin, and so effortful love, in that instance, was, I hear you kind of not quite asking, but I can hear you asking that you really want to go outside with me to do this for 10 minutes, and doing that and showing that to him.
So something unlocked for me last year around attention and effort. And the things that bring us joy and life actually involve attention and effort.
You can be in a beautiful place, and not be attentive to it and completely miss it. Or you can be completely passively consuming really incredible content online, but not then actioning on it, not putting in the effort to put it into action.
Perfect example, bingeing on inspirational quotes on Instagram, and then never doing anything, right?
There’s this connection between attention and effort, and so that, for me, is the laziness is the opposite of love. It’s like, love is attentive, love is effortful. I think for all of us, as creatives especially, we want to create, I have it right here on my wall: “make everything with love.”
I want my work to be infused with love, I want my relationships to be infused with that, and that requires a lot of me. That’s the good burden, right? Is fully showing up in your life, fully showing up in your work, doing weird things in your work that you aren’t necessarily seeing other people doing, but trusting that inner intuition and that just requires a huge amount of attentiveness.
Georgie: Hmm, hmm, hmm.
Georgie: It’s a little bit of a question because if you get so wrapped up in your work, so wrapped up in your family, all these people you’re loving and caring for, people always saying, “Need to hold something back for yourself.”
Do you? Do you really or actually? If you’re doing stuff that is so genuinely fulfilling, it’s fulfilling for yourself anyway, and so therefore, you are replenishing yourself.
Christina: I think that the laziness is the opposite of love is true for our own relationship to ourselves. Like, “No, I need to be attentive and put an effort in loving Christina.”
That was another big thing for me at the start of the pandemic, was like, “Whoa, my love for Christina is really important. I need to love her. She’s awesome. What do I need to do to make her really happy?”
You can’t see it right now. I’m wearing a confetti top, a shirt with confetti on it, and I have this beautiful weaving behind me by local artists. I do surround myself with things that really do lift me up and do feel truly me.
One of the things that’s really helped me this year is also getting back into movement and athleticism. I used to be an athlete, both in high school and university, as a rower.
I’ve gotten back into, it’s such a cliché thing to get back into exercise, but I have to say it is changing the game, the movement, taking care of me. It’s not just about my physical look, it’s about feeling strong and good in my body.
No, it’s such a cliché thing: again, can’t give from an empty cup, but, no, I absolutely do things for myself a lot, and I try to do them with my people. It’s not just about doing it all by myself.
What I can do, I really want to go for a bike ride, I’m like ask everyone in my house like, “Anyone want to go for a bike ride?” If everyone says no, I might probably do like bribe someone, ice cream cone or something. I’d rather do it with someone, but if not, I’m going to do it by myself, I am going to do it. Yes.
Georgie: Over the course of the past few years, Christina has also developed a daily mindfulness practice, which even the most time stretched can make a habit. She told us more.
Christina: It’s actually a centuries-old contemplative practice called the examine of conscience or consciousness. It’s kind of there’s two interchangeable names, but I do a really simplified version of it. And basically, it is this, asking yourself at the end of each day two questions, what today was most life giving, and what today was most life taking?
I would encourage people who want to try that to start out by writing it down, just on a little inexpensive journal on your bedside table, maybe just one page for life giving, one page of life taking, and just start to notice what’s falling in those columns.
Now, for me, it’s just maybe a minute of pause at the end of the day before I close my eyes to ask that question.
But circling back to the technology conversation, a lot of wasted time online falls squarely in the life taking column every time, right? Time well spent there. Sure. All good, life giving, right? And that’s true for online and offline.
Yes, that orientation to what gives life, what energy but getting, to use a different kind of phrase, is definitely been something that’s been powerful for me.
Georgie: And really observing, yes, what’s brought you energy in the day and what’s made you feel good.
Christina: Exactly. Then it’s not just so much you’re consciously– You got to be like, “Okay, I’ve got to do more of X, Y and Z.” It’s more of an unconscious thing, right? No one wants to do more bad things, no one wants to do more energy-sapping, life-taking things. So it’s more of that unconscious, I think, orientation towards, “Yes, that felt good. I want to do more of that.”
Georgie: Yes. Also, sometimes, the energy-sapping things are unavoidable. Sometimes you got to call the bank, –
Christina: That is a good point.
Georgie: – and you got to sit on hold.
Christina: Yes, you do, for an hour trying to talk to someone. I think it’s really good that you’re pointing that out because, yes, we can have this very pie-in-the-sky view of like, “Yes, we can just surround ourselves with all –” I just cooked a pot of chili. That had to be done. That’s going to be dinner tonight, right? That can be a really awesome experience, and sometimes that’s just doing the work. No, that’s a really good point.
I guess that’s an interesting question about how you make those experiences also maybe less terrible. Maybe that’s a different conversation for another day.
Georgie: Hmm. Yes, I like that. We’re dancing around this a bit. But to me, you are someone who lives a very, a full life and a joyful life, and that you’ve engineered, really, your life for happiness.
How do you look at the relationship between technology and happiness? I guess this relates to JOMO, your original book, and then also Good Burdens, too. What is happiness to you, and how does that relate to your technology use?
Christina: This is the question, right? This is my entire life, is like in one question. But, no big deal, no, no, no. I actually didn’t go to the dictionary definition of the word joy until years after The Joy Of Missing Out was written. Written into the Merriam-Webster’s definition of joy are the words well-being and success, and that combination.
So I have come up with this concept of the algebra of joy, which joy and happiness, we can get to the discussion about, “Are they the same thing?” I’m going to go with joy. Joy is my happiness word, but joy is well-being plus success. Success can be a dirty word, right? And well-being has also become one of those, “What does that mean anymore?”
Georgie: It means dollars.
Christina: Yes, exactly, exactly. But actually, the way I define well-being is having a positive relationship with your abilities and your limits, and success is the achievement of your goals, whatever they are. So, in both cases, you decide for yourself what they are.
So happiness to me, as it relates to technology, is being online and being okay with my abilities and being proud of them, but also okay with my limits. That, to me, is a big conversation about capacity because I actually really believe that every person has a different capacity.
I really don’t think we all have the same capacity. I really don’t believe that to be true. And so all the productivity–
Georgie: Capacity for?
Christina: For anything, cognitive capacity, relational capacity, physical capacity. This idea that you can take productivity rules or tips or hacks and just parlay them to every person in the world, to me, is just bananas. Not every person is built with the same capacity. All of us have unique abilities and limits. So that, to me, is well-being.
Then, yes, the success side, coming back to writing the book last year, the achieving of your goals. That felt so good because I set a goal, and I completed a goal, and it was a big goal, and I saw that all the way through. So, for me, joy with technology is using technology in a way that supports both of those things. That’s the big goal, right? In the work that you do, in that I do, yes.
Georgie: Amazing. That is crystal clear. I can very much see why you call it the algebra,Oh fuck. Yeah. It’s a little, some of my head there.
Christina: Yes. Then JOMO, The Joy Of Missing Out, but I’ve really honed in on it being the joy of missing out on the right things. The right thing for you, and the right thing for me, and the right thing for the person listening, those are all different.
Again, that comes back to navigating technology for the long haul in ways that support our well-being and success. And that really is a personal decision. We can use tools to support us in that, which is incredible, but ultimately, we need to make these decisions for ourselves. So the joy of missing out on the right things.
Georgie: Yes. And often, we’re missing out on things so that we can take on and absorb ourselves in our good burdens.
Christina: Yes. Oh, my goodness, Georgie, you just summed up my entire life work. I appreciate that very much.
Georgie: Well, on that note, Christina, you’ve been a fantastic guest. I knew you would be. Thank you so much for joining us on Freedom Matters. I can’t wait to read your book.
Christina: Thanks so much for having me.
Georgie: Thank you for joining us on Freedom Matters. If you like what you hear, then subscribe on your favorite platform. And until next time, we wish you happy, healthy and productive days.