Saturday, October 29, 2011

Busyness and Well-Being

In the 'West' most of us have heard from a young age that 'idle hands are the tools of the devil'... and we've heard, or been told, "don't just sit there, DO SOMETHING!"  We were raised to keep busy, it was a measure of, and we were told a precursor to, success.   Joe Bageant pointed out in one of his pieces (sorry can't find it right now, will keep looking) that in redneck culture you could be not nice, immoral, and a drunk... but, as long as you work hard you'll have a good reputation.  In fact, I think the way he said it was that the worst you could say about someone is that they were lazy.   Joe's caveat notwithstanding, in general, we've most often measured success by accumulation of money, especially money that we used to buy houses and cars, and the path to get these things is to stay busy.

Similarly, we measure the success of our country, our region, and our communities based on how many companies we have that make money, and if we don't have enough of those companies we obviously need to get more.

Part of this transition led by technology, globalization, and demographics may well be that the way we measure success will change.  Perhaps from "Busyness" to "Happiness", from "More" to "Better"... part of the challenge is that Happiness and Better are a helluva lot harder to measure, and jesus we like to measure stuff.  How much we weigh, how tall, how far, how much money, how many companies, how many widgets, how many points, how high a test score, unemployment, GDP, etc.  Counting helps to keep us busy, I suppose.

If you don't have enough time in the day to get everything done... ask yourself why?  What if you had no mortgage payment?  Are you working for your house(s), car(s), other trinkets?  (Personally, I am.  By most definitions I'm in good financial shape, no consumer debt on credit cards, no student loans, no car payments... but I don't need the house I'm in... I can move to a perfectly fine house in a nearby neighborhood and nearly pay for it with the equity in my current house... I'm going to try and do this).

What does your community need?  A new Olive Garden? Target?  major industry? "cooler" downtown? Trader Joe's and Whole Foods?... or perhaps, it needs more volunteers at the schools?  more neighborhood block parties? people helping people learn all kinds of new skills?

Two pieces I read this week, along these lines, that I thought were very good -

From Zen Habits - The Silliness of Busyness:

"You may be lost in the silliness of busyness if…
  • Your usual response to “how are you?” is “so busy”, “crazy busy” or “busy but good”
  • You spend time worrying about how busy you are going to be tomorrow
  • You get angry when your spouse or friends aren’t as busy as you
  • Your busy life keeps you up at night thinking about everything you didn’t get done
  • You make a point of letting people know that you stay at the office after hours
  • You check email several times a day
  • You zone out during conversations thinking about everything you have to do
  • You volunteer for things you don’t care about
  • You spend time complaining about how busy you are
  • You make list after list to make sure you don’t forget anything during your busy day
  • You allocate time each day to clean your desk or organize your stuff
  • You regularly eat in your car
  • You use a phone in the car because “it’s the only time you have to talk”
If you are anything like me, you are busy because you want to be or because you don’t know how to be un-busy. You are busy out of misdirected guilt because you think if you do enough, you will be enough. When you decide that it is ok to live life your way, you can stop being busy and start doing things that matter. You can talk about your meaningful day instead of ranting about your busy schedule. Decide today that you are enough, even if you never do anything, accomplish anything or produce anything ever again. You are enough."

From PhilosopherNotes - Flourish - downloadable at the bottom of the page @ Experience Life Mag.:

"Gross domestic product measures the volume of goods and services that are produced and consumed, and any events that increase that volume increase the GDP.  It does not matter if those events happen to decrease the quality of life.  Every time there is a divorce, the GDP goes up.  Every time two automobiles collide, the GDP goes up.  The more people who scarf down antidepressants, the more the GDP goes up.  More police protection and longer commutes to work raise the GDP even though they may lower the quality of life.  Economist, humorlessly, call these "regrettables."  Cigarette sales and casino profits are included in the GDP.  Some entire industries, such as law, psychotherapy, and drugs, prosper as misery increases.  This is not to say that lawyers, psychotherapist, and drug companies are bad, but rather that GDP is blind when it comes to whether it is human suffering or human thriving that increases the volume of goods and services.

This divergence between well-being and gross domestic product can be quantified.  Life satisfaction in the United States has been flat for fifty years even though GDP has tripled.

Even Scarier, measures of ill-being have not declined as gross domestic product has increased; they have gotten much worse.  Depression rates have increased tenfold over the last fifty years in the United States.  This is true of every wealthy nation, and, importantly, it is not of poor nations."
Martin Seligman from FLOURISH

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