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Is Busyness Stealing Your Happiness?

By March 23, 2015December 28th, 2015Choices

Lightening my schedule recently, I thought I’d feel a big shift. I’d be back at the gym consistently, feel more relaxed and energetic, and have plenty of time to focus on what’s important. Wrong!! My pattern of being busy – and therefore overwhelmed – continued beyond my schedule change. I still felt tired, over-scheduled, perpetually drinking from a fire hose, and not getting as much done as I’d like to in the areas that matter.

As I shared this with a good friend, who is a mother of young children, she said not only could she relate to feeling overwhelmed, but at points she had fantasies of jumping off of a second story building to escape her overwhelm. The fantasy was to injure herself just enough to experience a few days of peace in a hospital bed without causing major injury.

Guess what? She’s not alone! There’s actually a term for this, hospital fantasy. Katrina Alcorn, author of MAXED OUT, shared the results of a poll she conducted related to this topic. She asked 141 people if they’ve ever hoped they’d have a minor accident to be able to rest in the hospital for a few days. Almost half of the respondents said yes they have. Thirty-nine percent said no. And the other 16% said they’ve thought of something besides an accident, like a brief illness.

I could relate to the peaceful experience my friend was daydreaming about. Seven years ago I was cooped up in my house for several months after an accident. It was one of the more peaceful experiences of my life. While I wouldn’t want to repeat it, I did learn an important lesson… So many of the demands we place on ourselves are trivial, ego-based and many often have no impact on our well being or success.

Of course, I forgot about and/or ignored my lesson over time. All of the little things that were so unimportant during my recovery began to gain importance again as my health improved. Even though they weren’t really all that important. Within a few months of recovering, I caught myself constantly responding, I’m so busy, any time someone asked how I was doing. I didn’t like how it sounded – sooo self-important. I made an effort to respond differently to that question.

But I didn’t stop being busy. I’m not sure if the busyness was giving me a sense of self-worth or importance, or, if it was enabling me to hide from some of the feelings I was avoiding. Maybe it was both. (Clearly, I didn’t have the time to process those pesky feelings 😉 ). In fact, I was so busy that I quit the tools that brought me such happiness during my injury, like meditation.

While I continued to ride the overwhelm train, at various points I did increase my reliance on happiness tools, such as meditation, Reiki, journaling, gratitude journaling, tapping and more. I noticed first hand what the experts say. Happiness is an inner state. Happiness is not the momentary high of the promotion, or the new car. In fact, the busyness and overwhelm involved in achieving those things were zapping my happiness.

Overwhelm, as Christine Carter describes in her book The Sweet Spot, “makes us dumber than if we were stoned or deprived on an entire night’s sleep.” How can that line not make you laugh? Additionally, she states that overwhelm makes us “irritable, irrational, anxious, impulsive.”

Christine goes on to share that feeling overwhelmed makes us slow, unorganized, lack creativity, indecisive and easily cave to temptation. It affects our memory and impacts our ability to control our emotions. In addition to experiencing overwhelm personally, it’s a social and cultural phenomenon. Even if we know it’s not good for us, our brain is wired to follow our culture of overwhelm and embrace the illusion that busyness equals importance and power.

However, when we are happy, or experience positive emotions, we receive many benefits. Our creativity and productivity increase. We sleep better. We are more disciplined. Our decision-making is better. Our health is better.

But, when you’re caught in the cycle of busyness, it can feel too overwhelming to address overwhelm. So I started small and it worked. What helped me was applying a principle from Reiki, just for today. Focusing on today didn’t feel overwhelming. Focusing on the week or the month or my life felt overwhelming at first. So I applied the just for today thinking and asked myself the following questions…..

  • What do you really have to do today? (Says who? Your ego? Your head? Your heart? Are you arbitrarily making up that it has to be done today?)
  • What can you say no to?
  • Will it lead to long term, lasting happiness (not momentary pleasure)?
  • Do any of the items bring a smile to your face, or to the face of someone else, or a sense of reward to your heart?
  • What’s been hanging over your head for a while now? (Might be something that only takes a few minutes of focused energy to tackle, which by doing it eliminates the mental energy of thinking about it.)
  • How many of them could be combined? (E.g. see friend or work out? Go for a run with your friend.)
  • Which ones create a valuable result?
  • How realistic are your time frames?
  • Are you putting 2% effort into 50 things? What about putting full effort into a couple of things?
  • What are you avoiding feeling today by being so busy? (Sometimes just taking a few solid, focused moments of experiencing the feeling will allow it to pass, instead of weeks of avoiding it.)

Now it’s your turn. Just for today, look at your to-do list and ask yourself the questions above. What shifts for you?

P.S. I’ll be writing more about overcoming busyness in the coming weeks. If you’re interested in receiving that information, subscribe in the pink bar above.