Someone posted a link to an article about busyness as a disease. The content of the post was familiar. I’ve read it a dozen times before in various iterations. It lamented our over-scheduled lives, the fact that we don’t disengage from technology, that kids don’t have time to be bored. Many times I’ve read articles like this one and I’ve agreed. I spent years in an ongoing struggle to slow down my life. I thought that surely if life had a less hectic pace, I would have more happiness.
Then I had an epiphany, how happy I am has very little to do with the quantity of things on my to do list. I have been happy while working full-tilt with no time to stop. I have been miserable when I had long and leisurely days. Busy becomes miserable when I prioritize urgent over important. Busy is miserable if I’m busy at the wrong things or if I have to be busy according to someone else’s priorities instead of mine. That last part is the part that trips me up most often. I share my life with four children and a husband who all put things on my schedule. Then there are relatives, friends, church, school, etc. All of them would like to schedule me. Misery is not the goal, but sometimes it is the result if I do not keep in touch with my own priorities.
For years my kids did not have any after school lessons or activities. They came home and they played. Mostly they played video games. (There’s another set of articles telling me all about how that isn’t a good idea either.) This year two of my kids picked up one activity each. I watched how these outside activities added to their lives and brought them joy. They became more than they had been. Recently my son has become quite easily stressed. As I was casting about for solutions to his stress, I briefly considered dropping his outside activity (cello lessons) to give him more free time. I’ve rejected that, because I can see that free time doesn’t make him less stressed. In fact, sometimes he gets stressed because choosing to play this video game means he’ll have less time for that one. He’s not stressed because he’s busy. The stress is coming from somewhere else. (Hormones probably. Puberty is hard.) The key is that we don’t want to allow stress to steal something he enjoys. We don’t want to let stress make him smaller.
The life I have chosen is always going to be a busy one. I’ll always have multiple projects running in parallel. I’ll always have to use lists to track the things I need to get done. When I’ve got myself properly focused, I like being busy. Not everyone would be happy with a life like mine. Which is fine, everyone has to build their own life and fill it with their own priorities as much as they are able. (Most of us don’t get to be the sole masters of the lives we have.) For me, these past few weeks have been made of schedule disruption as I’ve responded to kid meltdowns and school absences. I have to find ways to reach for happiness no matter what else is going on in my days. That is hard on the days when I feel both stretched thin and emotionally bruised. Yet if I reach for happiness in the hard times, I’ll likely grab it when things lighten up. And I can do it while still being busy. I’m not going to let stress or anxiety make me live smaller.
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