Don’t Save Your Fun for the End of the Day

Joy is more than a reward for productivity

Kathleen Smith
Published in
2 min readDec 14, 2020


Tranquil man resting his eyes.
Photo: fizkes/Getty Images

We may be used to motivating ourselves with the promise of a reward — grind all day and relax at night, or break for a treat only after finishing a project — but in talking with my therapy clients over the past several months, I’ve found that we simply can’t strong-arm ourselves into productivity when we feel anxious and isolated. The promise of happiness isn’t enough when we need it right this minute.

We shouldn’t wait to reward ourselves with conversations with friends, a walk outside, or a mystery novel. Instead, we should pepper our days with them. We need to build them into our daily schedules and protect them like the life-sustaining measures that they are.

When we incorporate activities into our day that foster curiosity, like exploring a new park, playing a board game, or sitting around the fire pit with a friend, then we direct our mind away from its anxious flailing. And when we can steer away from anxiety, one added benefit is that we give ourselves a chance to do better work.

To help you decide which rewards to add to your day, here are some questions you can ask:

  • What low-cost or no-cost things make me feel happy?
  • What am I naturally curious about right now?
  • What things do I never regret doing?
  • How can I start or end my day on a high note?

If you’ve been having a hard time lately, consider whether you’ve been withholding joy because you’ve decided you don’t deserve it — because you feel lazy, or unproductive, or less than enough. It’s time to stop thinking of the things that make us happy as expendable extras. They’re the life raft that will carry us through the next few months.



Kathleen Smith
Writer for

Kathleen Smith is a therapist and author of the book Everything Isn’t Terrible: Conquer Your Insecurities, Interrupt Your Anxiety, and Finally Calm Down.