Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bust the Busy-ness

I was taking my sis around a few days ago to run errands. We hit up the Target, Walmart, a hair shop, etc. It was a nice day and we just wanted to be out. We had a great time, but it struck me that so many people I saw looked unhappy. I mean, just miserable. It's as if they had no joy or contentment.

Since then, I have been paying more attention to this. I just study people while I'm out and about. I watch to see how many of them are ready to share a smile, and how many of them are looking beaten down. Let me tell you: if you can go by their expressions and body language, there are some really pitiful people out there. Just makes me want to stop and find out what's wrong and if there is anything I can do or say to make them feel a little better.

Anyway, I was talking to my sister about this. I told her I just didn't understand why people seem so determined to be joyless. She doesn't agree with me. She doesn't think it's that people want to be joyless, she thinks it's that they are just too weighted down to remember to be joyful.

The more I think about it, the more I believe my sis may be right. I mean, for one thing, we have been taught to be too busy. You know what I mean, right? It's like we aren't allowed to feel content anymore. We are supposed to be multi-taskers, on-the-go, go-getters... People don't look "important" enough unless they are moving fast and carrying a satchel full of work. It's very status-boosting to talk about the frequent-flyer miles you rack up because of your business travel. It's classy to talk about how you have to squeeze in your vacation time and time for family and time for friends. If you aren't rushing around like a successful maniac, you look... like you aren't successful.

I don't know many people anymore who just go to work, come home and hang out with the family. And when I say "hang out," I don't mean they're cramming in as much homework and extracurricular activities as they can into the off-hours of their lives.

When I was in school, I had two major responsibilities: homework and chores. The rest of the time, I spent with family and friends. Not every moment of my existence was planned and mapped out. A lot of the time, my friends and I just played outside or hung out in each other's bedrooms. We daydreamed, talked, listened to music, walked the neighborhood and hung out with our families. Any sports we played weren't exactly organized. Mostly, we scraggled together for an impromptu game of softball or soccer.

During the daytime hours of the workweek, my parents did their jobs (Dad at the base, Mom at home) and then we were a family in the evening. My parents watched television together, but the television was not constantly on. They sat and talked and had friends over at least a few nights a week. One of my favorite memories is Mom and Dad sitting around the living room, laughing and talking with the Delaneys or the Powells. They'd talk until it was getting dark, then Mom and Dad would follow their guests out into the front yard where they'd all talk a little while longer.

Now I think about how life is and how busy people are expected to be. There's no more peace and quiet in the day. We have to be busy or at least look busy so that we fit in with the rest of the people who are busy being busy.

When I worked for a large family-owned company some years back, I had a boss who understood what time meant. Once, after our department had busted our tails for over a month on a big project, the boss told the group of us to go home early. After I went home to grab some lunch, I went back to the office to clean up some of the things I'd had to neglect while working on the project.

Around 4 or 5 o'clock, my boss saw me in my little cubicle. He wanted to know why I was there. When I explained, he shook his head.

"There is a reason some jobs are 9 to 5," he told me. "You and I work here. We don't own the company. Don't let the company own you."

I thought that was a little de-motivational and I guess my expression showed what I thought. My boss kind of laughed and he asked me to remember something very simple about life-work balance:

"Work to live, don't live to work."

I never forgot that. Wherever I work, whatever I do, I give a hundred percent, but I don't give so much that it damages other parts of my life.

Now there are some people who get so caught up in being busy that they lose their personal joy - and they resent people who haven't lost their joy. For instance, I had a manager once who just did not like me at all. It was purely personal. She was mostly fair with me as far as the job went, but it was obvious that something about me rubbed her the wrong way. Finally, at a company party, when she'd had a few drinks, the truth came out. "You know what bugs me about you?" she blurted out. "You're just too damn happy."

That was it. She was a miserable, discontented woman, even though she was very successful in her career. I bugged her because I was not a miserable and discontented woman. (I have to tell you that some co-workers and I did a little experiment and realized that she favored her workers who groused about their personal problems to her. The sadder they looked, the more she mentored them!)

Ah well.

I guess this was kind of a rambling post, when the only point I really wanted to get across was: How happy are you? Are you to busy to be happy?

Now, there are some people who just are unhappy. They have made it a habit to be unhappy and they don't even realize it. They have forgotten how to smile just to be smiling. It's easier or more comfortable for them to be a grouse. It gives them a kind of power to express their misery. Some people are just too caught up in life to really live it. They will just stay busy until time runs out. Then what? *shrug*

If being busy is a joy to you, then great. But if you haven't ever really slowed down enough to look at whether you are happy or not, this might be a good time to do that.