Being busy is hardly worth noting anymore. Who isn’t busy? And who hasn’t lamented it? Sometimes it starts as small talk. Maybe you’re not sure what to say, and the one thing you have in common with your classmate or your coworker is busyness. You start out complaining half-heartedly, not sure if you even mean it, but before long, you forget that it’s not real. You can’t spend all that time churning negativity without whipping up some authentic, home-made anxiety! You start to wish that you had nothing to do and nowhere to be.
Then suddenly you find yourself on the opposite side of things, and you realize the “happiness” you imagined free-time to be was an illusion. I would know. I haven’t been busy for the past couple of months, as I’ve been out of a job! I finished grad school pre-reqs in December and now I am just waiting to receive my acceptance and/or rejection letters from various graduate programs. In a short six-month window it’s difficult to find a job, especially if you’re honest about how long you can stay there. Anyway, it’s been pretty interesting and hilarious to watch myself cycle through acceptance and contentment to tantrums of self-bullying and back again. Some might call the experience miserable, and sometimes I’m one of them. Other times I’m able to see it in perspective.
You see, unemployment presents a serious challenge because you no longer have a convenient means to avoid yourself. But busyness does not equal happiness. And free time doesn’t either.
I think an important distinction to make is the purpose of what you are “busy” for. What are you dedicating your time to? Who or what is benefitting from your time? One of the most vital ingredients to a sane mind is serving others rather than yourself. For those who are out of a job, staying at home all day watching crappy TV and refreshing Craigslist is a sure route to insanity.
Another important question to ask yourself is whether you are truly in the moment as you move through the many obligations and appointments in a given day (or lack thereof), or whether you are lost in your thoughts. If we are mindful about what fills our time, any activity can lead to a fuller experience of life. Even if you are out of work, it is possible to face the situation with equanimity.
If unemployment has you feeling totally self-absorbed, find a volunteer opportunity that is meaningful to you and spend some time focused intently on someone or something else. Yesterday I volunteered for the first time at Austin Pets Alive! For two hours I pet lonely kitties, scooped their poop, gave them fresh food and clean water, and sterilized their cages. I moved calmly and with purpose, carefully not to startle the frightened felines any more than necessary. I was completely attuned to each cat, watching it’s body language to judge whether I should pour on more affection or give some more space. The time completely flew by. I felt like I was there for maybe 45 minutes. I could easily have stayed for two more hours. When I left, I felt a clean, pure happiness.
Well after all this talk, I should add that I finally found a job and I’m starting next week. I’d be lying if I said I weren’t relieved to know I’ll get to feel busy again. But inevitably, I’m sure I’ll soon start romanticizing my days of lying in bed until noon, conveniently forgetting the self-loathing part. Oh, being a human!
I guess what it all boils down to is this: whether you have a million things on your to-do list today, or haven’t needed a to-do list in weeks, just remember that neither scenario will necessarily make you happy. You have to make yourself happy. Did you get that, self? You wrote it! No? Ok, well that’s fine. Keep trying :)