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The purpose of being busy

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The purpose of being busy

In our culture, we value busyness highly, even an edge of competitiveness, but, asks JUDY RAFFERTY, is there a purpose to it all?

“I HAVE never been so busy” is heard from many people in retirement.

Recently I heard it from Jenny, a 68-year-old woman who has been retired for three years.

“Jenny, were you also busy before you retired? What haven’t you done in life because you were too busy – either now or in retirement?”

“I am not sure,” she said, “But I like being busy. It makes me feel like I am using the day well, that I have purpose.”

It can be uncomfortable to not be busy after a lifetime of chasing an impossible to-do list. It’s hard to be relaxed and paced and still feel like we’re a player in a culture that glorifies busyness.

But there is an important difference between being busy and being engaged with purpose. A busy life does not always have purpose, and a purposeful life is not always busy.

Research tells us that a feeling of purpose in daily life is associated with wellbeing. In contrast, busyness is associated with stress. This is often a result of overextending ourselves, pleasing others and prioritising their needs over our own.

So why do we see it as worthwhile?

We often opt for busyness because it allows us to feel purpose even when it’s not there. However, leading a busy life without purpose can be like reading about an exciting love affair without having one!

In addition, getting things done often gains recognition from others and provides a nice sense of accomplishment. My friend Bev writes things down on her to-do list, even if she has already done them, just for the pleasure of crossing them off.

Busyness is also seductive because it can give you something to talk about. It provides conversational fodder. Everyone can bond as they sigh over their busyness woes. Sometimes being busy allows us to avoid other, more important aspects of our life. It’s a form of procrastination.

What do you avoid doing because you’re too busy to do it? You may not be doing it intentionally, but years can slip by without having to think about whatever is sitting quietly in the back of your mind.

It’s essential to figure out if the things taking up your time are really the things worthy of your time and energy. And if not, what is? When will you do those things? If not now, when?

Purpose is not on a to-do list. It grows out of commitment and values.

 Judy Rafferty is author of Retirement Your Way, A Practical Guide to Knowing What You Want and How to Get It.

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