Craftsmen such as ironsmiths value their work deeply. When a swordsmith looks at the hot iron, or at the finished Katana, the look in the eyes tells a deep story. Cal argues that the same level of deep satisfaction is possible not just in the crafts economy, but also in the information economy.

The arguments presented in support are three-part: neuroscientific, psychological and philosophical.

Neuroscientific bases

Our brains see the world in the context of what we pay attention to. There is a deep connection between a focused life and happiness. Meaning, if you spend most of your days paying attention to shallow things such as mindlessly browsing the web, the brain will see the entire world around you from that perspective, and make you feel shallow. The scientific basis of this is that research showed adult brains react only to positive stimuli whereas a child’s brain reacts equally to positive and negative stimuli.

Psychological bases

Csikszentmihalyi and Larson showed that the best moments of people’s lives happen in “flow states” where they’re focused deeply on a goal at the moment. Though this finding is in contradiction to the conventional belief that one wants to work less and spend more time in relaxation, it validates that going deep causes one to feel the life to be worthwhile, and most people have it wrong.

Philosophical bases

Analogous to sayings such as “each piece of wood is distinct and therefore has a personality”, “a wheel is not unique, but its shape can be” as used by the craft economy, this view can be taken for knowledge work. This philosophy helps avoid a nihilistic view of life and generates meaning. Programmers use phrases such as “code is poetry” and think of themselves as craftsmen. It has also been shown by Hubert Dreyfus and others that after Enlightenment, general feeling of happiness and fulfilment decreased. This, they argued is because, in an earlier era, the world was made of sacred and shiny things in people’s minds which was then removed by the Enlightenment era. Though this change brought freedom to slaves and many other improvements, it is also making lives hard to live.

Thus, deep work is essential to extract meaning and happiness out of life.

Previous issue: Deep Work Summary Part 2 (Deep Work Is Rare)

Follow up: Deep Work Summary Part 4 (Rule #1: Work Deeply)