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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The Simple Things

I’m not generally one for new years resolutions, I am more of a creature of continuous improvement, but this year I promised David, my fiance, that I would slow down. I have coined 2014 as the year of the ‘rush’ for me – a somewhat stressful full-time job, part-time university study, co-ordinating over 50 High Tea Honeys events and somewhere in there squeezing in football and Toastmasters. Naturally, time for those closest to you ends up too far down the priority list, as do the simple things such as sleep, exercise and eating a well-balanced diet. Fortunately for me, David has supported me without complaint but one evening over dinner he politely asked me if I was going to take it a bit easier this year and I agreed that I would.

I finished up my sales job just before Christmas and am incredibly excited about starting in the consulting world next week. The five week break has been a blessing, it has done wonders for both my mental and physical health. I chose not to enrol to summer school, as tempting as it was to knock another uni paper off, and instead I have taken the opportunity to take a break from that feeling of always having something that I should be doing. Instead, I have focused my time and energy on the basics – daily exercise, nutritious meals and time with family and friends. I feel like a new person and I am determined not to slip into old habits. My focus is on adequate rest and executing my planning efforts.

These are the principles I have set for myself to abide by:

  • Practice meditation as daily as possible. I was recently introduced to an app called ‘1 Giant Mind’ (a by-product of actually having the time to contribute to online communities about things I am interested in). I absolutely love it. For someone who has always been curious about meditation and not that comfortable with the idea of sitting in a room full of strangers doing it for the first time, starting out proved to be a challenge. With 1 Giant Mind, I am learning to meditate in my own time and it’s perfect for me. I’m aiming for 30 minutes at the beginning of every day to calm my mind and prepare me for whatever the day throws at me.
  • 8 hours sleep. This is non-negotiable, no matter how much work or study I have on, it can wait. On top of this, phone/tablet/computer – all off at least 30 minutes before bed.
  • Get it done today and do it perfectly enough. Don’t put off until tomorrow what can be done today. Also, note the term ‘perfectly enough’, striving for perfection can be a barrier for me, if I don’t think I can do something perfectly, I will procrastinate about it for weeks. In the last year or two I have become better at this but still something I struggle with, especially when it comes to work and study.
  • Be realistic about what I can fit in around the commitments I have made to myself. If ‘extra curricular’ activities are going to chew into the time I should be sleeping, meditating, exercising, preparing nutritious meals or spending time with my partner in a well planned out week then I have to say no.

I have already started this week with the decision to hang up my football boots for the season and by setting a goal this year to only complete half of the uni papers I completed last year. I am treating the simple things with the same importance as I would a work meeting by scheduling non-negotiable time for myself. I am enjoying my new lifestyle and I am committed to keeping it up, even after I have started my new job. Wish me luck.