Everybody’s always complaining about how busy they are. Stressed out, running around, too much to do, no time to relax.
Yet, the opposite problem exists for many people. They have too much time on their hands. Nothing to do and all day to do it. And, that’s not just retired or unemployed folks. It’s also working people who don’t know how to spend their time off. So what do they do? They keep working. Surprisingly, more than half of Americans don’t take all their paid vacation days.
Clearly, no one likes being stressed out, with no time to relax or do what they want to do. That’s why we crave leisure time. A break from work — yay! A break from household tasks — whoopee! A break from childcare — wow, time for myself!
What makes leisurely pursuits so enjoyable is their break from regular responsibilities. But when we have nothing to look forward to for the day, for the week, for the month, leisure time is anything but enjoyable. It’s unnerving. It makes us uneasy. It makes us feel unnecessary. And it is oh, so boring.
With too much time on your hands, not only do you feel bored but you probably also feel lonely, anxious, angry and depressed. And, if you are living with others, it’s so easy to point fingers of blame (“we never do anything”). Let’s face it, most people simply don’t know what to do with themselves when they are alone (or with a partner), when they have no structured activity or scheduled socializing.
Recognizing what you’d like to do, initiating the event, and then following through with making it happen is hard to do on your own. Hence, people have a tendency to while away their leisure time with passive activities — such as watching TV, playing video games, drinking or sleeping the day away.
All leisure time activities are not the same in value either. Those that have the highest potential for making us feel joyful and jubilant are those that are active, such as participating in games, sports, hobbies, travel and socializing. This is true whether you have a weekend off, a summer off, are independently wealthy or are fully retired.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of the best-selling book Finding Flow, says that most people feel happiest when they are “fully involved in meeting a challenge, solving a problem or discovering something new. Most activities that produce flow — a peak feeling of happiness — come from being fully involved in something, focusing our attention and making demands on our skills.”
Though many people would agree that such activities improve their mood, they still frequently fall into passive pursuits. Why should this be so? The answer is clear. It takes more time, energy and thought to schedule a tennis game with friends than to flip on the TV. Even if you’re planning a solitary activity, like taking a stroll on the boardwalk, you have to organize yourself to dress right, drive there, park and get motivated to walk. It’s not a major production to do, yet it’s still much easier to not bother and let the time go by passively.
If, when you have leisure time, you feel more listless and lethargic than rested and relaxed, it’s time to get going. Stop taking the easy road. Instead, push yourself or gently pull yourself forward. Get involved in activities that require movement, learning and/or socializing.
As your mood improves, your outlook on life will blossom. Then you’ll realize you no longer have too much time on your hands. Nor, will you be “crazy busy.” Happily, you and your free time will be dancing in tandem.