Prioritising Happiness in a Culture that Glorifies Busyness

“I haven’t seen you in SO long! It must have been, what, six months since we said we should catch up?”

“I know, I’ve been sooo busy. You know, juggling the kids, work is insane and, don’t even get me started on the housework.”

“How do you do it all? You. Are. Amazing!”

Sound familiar? It’s the story of our modern society, full of pressure to have it all, do it all, be it all. Success is defined by what we do and what we have. It’s like how full our schedule is, is an indication of how fulfilled our lives are.

Like many families, our household income reduced by half with the arrival of our beautiful daughter. We were still getting by financially and I was surprised that, generally I felt as happy, if not happier than before. The time at home with Everly forced me to re-prioritise my schedule.

Everly needs days where we have no plans, and where we can nap all afternoon together. We take walks around our own garden, noticing the textures of the leaves and literally stopping to smell the roses. I assume the role of chief bubble blower and transform our living room into a rodeo for piggy back rides. She points and declares “moon, moon” marching down the hall toward the window, as if the moon is the most wonderful thing she has ever seen.

At what point do we lose this sense of wonder and amazement at the world? When is it that we trade noticing and giggling at a plump wood pigeon weighing down a branch of a kowhai tree to rushing through life? Where deadlines and start times are what drives our schedules? And where being busy is glorified? We sign up for activities and we say yes to things that aren’t in pursuit of what sets our souls alight. We work to level up in our careers, for more money, and more responsibility – just to become busier.

Money gives people options and there is an amount we need at a minimum to cover our basic needs, I get that. However what I am suggesting, and what I found is there is a point where any increase in money has a negligible impact on our happiness and contentment. Pursuing wealth and power, does not come without a cost.

Take Elon Musk for example, an intellectual genius, and billionaire serial entrepreneur. For 15 years, he worked 100 hours per week? Do the math on how much time is left for sleeping. Where do you fit time in to nurture relationships with people you love and care about on that?

At a more relatable level, I have seen more than one example of people celebrating promotions to top level leadership positions, and their relationships and health deteriorate as quickly as the extra pressure and responsibility was loaded on. The lifestyle is not always sustainable, and what’s the cost of not being able to work for a year to recover from burnout, or the cost of divorce?

Is it really worth it?  What if we start to redefine the measures of success?

Arianna Huffington is the founder of Huffington Post. She is wealthy, and powerful, but in 2007 she suffered a fall that resulted in her waking up in a pool of her own blood in her office. The diagnosis? Sleep deprivation and exhaustion.

In her book “Thrive”, Arianna talks about the power of well-being, our physical and mental health. She talks about wisdom and wonder, the creativity and gratitude inspired by marvelling at art, nature and the activity going on around us. She talks about giving being the ‘shortcut to happiness’.

What would be the impact on our happiness if we prioritised time for more meaningful experiences and deeper connections with people and our surroundings? How can we change?

There are two ways I think we can start to change the conversation.

The first is with ourselves. Look objectively at what you do (including what you chase your kids around doing) and how you spend a typical week. Ask yourself, how can I be less busy? How can I declutter my schedule? Can I reduce and replace some of my living costs so I can spend less time at work and more time on the important things? How can I be less stressed and distracted, be more present and well – both physically and mentally?

We need to change our conversations with others too.

Instead of supporting and encouraging busyness with “Oh I don’t know how you do it all. You. Are Amazing.”  Try “I’m sorry, you sound really overwhelmed. Is there something I can do to help you be less busy? Are all of the things you are doing really necessary?”

Rushing through life, with a jam packed schedule, working 100 hours per week and juggling the pressures of pursuing wealth and power, is not the recipe for happiness. I don’t think it should take having a child to force us into re-prioritising how we spend our time. Let’s change the conversation firstly with ourselves, and then others, and push back on busyness being worn as a badge of honour.

Image credit: Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

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Don’t be offended if you don’t hear back from me right away

Since when did immediacy become ingrained in our culture? Those little red circles alerting us to a Facebook like, comment or share, a new email, something new on Snapchat or another thing that needs our attention on Instagram at that moment. We send a message to a friend and can literally see if they have read it and half expect a response. We can even see if our friends are online and if not, when they last were.

It’s all consuming.

I’m advocating we take micro steps to reverse our attitudes and expectations of each other and the impact being constantly connected is having on our happiness. What percentage of the content we consume on a daily basis actually does us any good? 2%,  maybe less? I think the majority of it fosters “compare and despair” as we compare the highlights of someone else’s life to our own reality.

In my last post I talked about how I no longer charge my phone beside the bed and resist picking it up until I have started my day without my mind being hijacked by breaking news or the latest meme tag. I thought I would share a few other ways I am dictating my own screen time and why you should consider making a phone call about the things requiring immediate attention.

Unsubscribe from all email lists I never actually read

Does your personal and/or work email get clogged with emails from the same senders that end up straight in the deleted folder, or just sit unread in your mailbox? Earlier this week I went through my emails and methodically unsubscribed from all senders that fill my inbox with clutter. It’s amazing how quiet my inbox is now, only emails from people I care about and/or that contain information of any importance make it in. Opening my emails is no longer overwhelming.

Manage all that blog content gold elsewhere

Are there blogs that you just can’t live without but so many you can’t seem to keep on top of them? Cool, same for me. Instead of filling your inbox, use a tool designed for managing all that juicy content. For a long time I have been using Feedly to remain knowledgeable about both my personal and professional areas of interest, check it once or twice a day, skim the content headlines, file away the good stuff for future reference and the rest disappears.

Turn off all social notifications

I have turned off all of my notifications on Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Strava (yes, I’m talking to you too), Facebook and Messenger, not just the sound, the whole shebang. Do you know how liberating it is? Imagine opening your phone to zero little red circles peeling your attention away to start that chain reaction where an hour later you still haven’t put your phone down.

If it’s important, they’ll call

Remember how we used to talk to each other? Mobile phones were pretty new when I was a teenager, catching up with a friend was done with an actual conversation on a landline or by turning up on their doorstep. I figure if there is anything important that I need to know immediately, or respond to immediately, my phone will ring.

Others have gone as far as setting up an auto-responder on their emails to let senders know they are not available and to resend their email at a more suitable time as the original email will be automatically deleted then and there. That’s a little extreme according to me, but I think we can all take steps to reduce our expectations on our family, colleagues and friends to respond immediately and regain control of those intrusive notifications.

What are your thoughts on changing the ever connected, immediacy expectations of our modern culture? What do you do to disconnect?  I’d love to hear.

Photo by Charlz Gutiérrez De Piñeres on Unsplash