Bank Holiday mindfulness and getting happy
Why is ‘busy’ brandished by so many people? Radio Four’s series Oliver Burkeman Is Busy has been analyzing the modern fetish of busyness. In this week’s programme they covered the warped phenomena of telling people how busy we are as a sign of relevance, importance, value, status, competence, and financial worth. In business, not being busy, has become a threat for ‘only the busy’ are getting anything done.
Yet, UK productivity is behind other major economies and according the Office for National Statistics it is falling. As Oliver Burkeman’s programme so clearly stated, we are mistaking busyness for being important. For some people, busyness has become a badge of honour. I have never forgotten the stories given to me by my lawyer clients (in tones of great self-worth) of missing their own wedding reception to go back and close a deal, choosing to stay with a client negotiation rather than go to a father’s bedside for a final goodbye; missing a child’s first school play because a partner asked for a document; of the little child who came down to breakfast and his mother said ‘say hello to Daddy’ – then stood in horror as the child walked across the room, passed his father and picked up the telephone. Every one of those people gave their story in the expectation of being respected and admired. I could feel only pity for they were throwing away moments which could never be grasped back.
Contrast this with the research of Meik Wiking in Denmark which has led to the new book, The Little Book of Lykke (the Danish word for happiness). As CEO of the Danish www.happinessresearchinstitute.com, Meik was asked on the Today Programme what one thing he would do to become more happy and one thing to stop which makes us unhappy. His answer was to spend more time with others and less time comparing yourself to others. Seems to me this is the direct opposite to ‘Busy’ in which you are too stretched to communicate and constantly compare and compete on your levels of busyness. It also suggested that my ‘oh so busy lawyers’ were on a fast track away from happiness.
So my question was, can you stop being busy and be happy? As a lifelong busy-fanatic (if you want to torture me then ask me to sit down and relax!), I was skeptical. However, I could make the step of stopping the inner voice of the busy-fanatic which is a constant whir of ‘I have to’, 'I must’, ‘I should’ and the insistence of living in the future or past – thinking about what you have yet to do and what you have failed to get done. Busyness is having your head anywhere but in the present and the thought of actually enjoying the moment and relaxing into it is an anathema.
I decided to be my own guinea pig and spend three days being in the present and doing what feels right in the moment. Now the fact that this has fallen on a Bank Holiday makes my experiment fairly easy, but there have still been some huge lessons. Last year, I spent the bank holiday catching up on chores, doing e-mails, defrosting the freezer and worming the cat. This year I spent three days really focusing on doing meaningful things mindfully – making the best of every moment instead of clogging my brain with ‘must do’. What have I learned?
Mindfulness does work if you give it time. Yes, you can use the mindfulness app or get a mindful colouring book, but 15 minutes sitting under a tree listening to birds is so much nicer and more effective. See our article 'How can I use mindfulness to help manage stress in my busy life?' by Ceri Thomas-Morton.
If you go to a gin party and stop worrying about what you look like and avoiding the calories you meet wonderful new women and have hilarious conversations about why men wee in wardrobes when they are drunk.
If you notice and show interest in others they are invariably interesting. I spent a lovely 30 minutes talking to a young metal detecting expert in the middle of a ploughed field about local history as shown through medieval coins.
If you go cycling without looking at your watch and instead, looking at the world you are whirring through, you see, smell and hear more than you have ever done before; and if you just say hello to other cyclists they greet you like a friend.
Sloes are ripening early this year so time to gather and make your Sassy Sloe Gin
If you balance what you need to do with what you want to do the day is simply more fun
The freezer is still freezing, the e-mails can wait until a working day and the cat is not vomiting worms. All is well!