Live the (Stress-Free) Life You Want: Prioritizing for Happiness
The Modern Busy Lifestyle
Last summer my family stayed at a lakeside cottage where the only telephone was an old-fashioned rotary model. The cottage was so remote that there was no cell phone service, just the clunky black telephone sitting atop a tattered phone book on an end table next to a worn-out peach-colored couch.
It was morning the first time I dialed the phone. I'd gone out for a wake-up swim, poured myself a cup of coffee, and sat down on the couch to call a friend to see if he and his kids might like to join my wife, my kids, and me that night at a minor-league baseball game. There was no urgency to this call, no need for me to hurry.
Yet as I dialed, impatience flared because on this phone I had to wait for the rotor to wind back to its starting point after each number. It was so slow. It made an irritating screeching sound as it retraced its circle, like a metal drawer stuck on its runners. I could have entered the entire number on a touch-tone phone in the time it took me to dial just one digit on this contraption. Not to mention how much faster I could have done it with my cell phone's speed dial.
By the time I had cranked out the entire number, I was in a snit. As the phone rang, I fumed. But then I caught myself. This was absurd. When my friend answered, I spoke to him, hung up and then, as an experiment, redialed his number, timing how long it took: exactly 11 seconds. Those 11 seconds had annoyed me beyond reason. I had become a person in a hurry even when I had no need to hurry.
Many people today find that they live in a rush they didn't create, or at least didn't mean to create. Look at what's happened to the usual "How are you?" exchange. It used to go like this: "How are you?" "Fine." Now it often goes like this: "How are you?" "Busy." Or, "Too busy." Or even, "Crazy busy."
It's insidious, this too-busy lifestyle. It can seem that there's no way to avoid it. What are we supposed to do, be Luddites and refuse to buy cell phones? Not go wireless? Refuse to enroll your kids in soccer, violin, and SAT tutoring? Have simple birthday parties the way they used to in the 1950s? Let the lawn go to seed? Refuse to give time to the cancer foundation a friend is heading up? Say no to the extra work the boss is pressing on you after half the staff got laid off?
But being too busy does tremendous harm. It prevents us from controlling our own lives. It increases toxic stress, making people sick, causing errors and accidents, turning otherwise polite folks into rude hard chargers and reducing the general level of happiness in the population.
The greatest damage it does is that it keeps a person from what's most important. You're so overwhelmed trying to manage the rush, the gush, and the clutter that you don't take the time to decide what matters most to you, let alone make the time to do it. You get up each day and wing it, building upon the undone remnants of yesterday, coupled with the anticipated as well as unanticipated demands of today.
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