Some people may call me an idealist. They’re not entirely wrong. I see each day as an opportunity to do better, be better, and live my life with no regrets. I’m certainly far from perfect, but the “life is short” mantra plays loudly in my head and gives me the ammunition to strive to make this life – and every day – count. So if that means I’m a bit of a dreamer, I’m quite content with that label. After all, I’ve always been a doer and a learner so adding dreamer to my resume is just fine with me. And after reading The Gratitude Diaries, by Janice Kaplan and Shawn Achor’s The Happiness Advantage, it’s kind of hard NOT to turn things on their head – or reframe my reality – to look on the bright side, and actively seek the positive in circumstances that may look challenging and grim on the surface.
As Achor states: “When some people meet adversity, they simply stop looking for ways to turn failures into opportunities or negatives into positives. Others – the most successful among us – know that it’s not the adversity itself, but what we do with it that determines our fate.” I’m pretty sure I want to be in the latter group.
The concept of reframing makes me think of the “Busy = Important/Valuable” phenomenon in our society.
I’m certainly not the first to weigh in on this subject and I won’t be the last. And I’ll get this out of the way now: I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t annoyed with the constant, predictable response – BUSY – I receive when I ask most people how they are. Okay, I said it.
I recently read Scott Dannemiller’s insightful piece Busy is a Sickness, which references medical professionals who say busyness “is an epidemic” and that “we are afraid of ourselves.” This passionate and refreshingly honest piece highlights two kinds of busyness. First, “busyness without control, which primarily affects the poor.” People in this group literally need to work multiple jobs to put food on the table and pay the rent. Second, “busyness we control.” These are people who genuinely have a lot on the go (careers, families, activities) but also make life more difficult and harried by adding stress to situations when none is called for (rushing when no rushing is needed), and piling their calendars sky high with stuff (maybe even sub-consciously so they can say how busy they are).
I would argue there’s a third type of busyness: The I-have-a-lot-going-on-but-I-also-have-time-for-leisure-but-since-everyone-else-is-so-incredibly-busy-I-am-too category.
But I digress.
Throughout his piece, Dannemiller takes us on his own journey, concluding with these powerful words:
“So my prayer today is this. That I stop defining myself by my doing, and start defining myself by my being. That I stop measuring time by the clock on the wall, and start measuring it by the experiences I share with those around me. And that I stop seeing my life as “busy,” and instead, see it for what it truly is. Full.”
Amen! Thank you Scott!!
The dreamer in me (and I suspect Dannemiller would jump on this cloud too) would love to replace the “How are you?” question in society (which almost always guarantees the dreaded “B” response) with “What made you smile today?” or “What was your favourite part of the week?” We’d no doubt receive some strange looks at first. But we’d likely also receive some answers that told us more about the acquaintance or friend we just bumped into at the coffee shop or grocery store. Something of substance. Something special. Something that would help us connect.
Perhaps I’ll try it out. You have my full permission to look at me funny. But when you’re done, let’s really connect.
Am I busy by today’s North American cultural standards? Yes.
I work full time, I have a family with a full schedule filled with programs, hockey games, play dates, birthday parties, date nights, sleepovers, regular coughs, colds, and cavities necessitating doctor and dentist appointments, and all the meltdowns and pre-teen drama episodes that fill our lives on a daily basis.
Do I think I’m any better for it and want to flaunt it like a “badge of honour” as Dannemiller calls it? Definitely not.
Do other people have much bigger challenges, obstacles, and “busyness” than I do? You bet.
Take my life, add a seriously ill child or a child that requires regular specialist appointments, real financial challenges, a parent coping with their own illness or their spouse’s illness or death even, or a myriad of other challenges or roadblocks in the health, wealth, or well-being departments.
With this in mind, and with Kaplan’s gratitude wisdom and Achor’s science-backed advice on the power of changing our perspective, I’m sharing a few things in my life that make me feel incredibly blessed, not busy:
- I’m not busy schlepping my three healthy children around from programs, to play dates, to parties. I’m blessed and grateful that I’m not schlepping them to SickKids.
- I’m not busy meeting deadlines for work. I’m blessed with a challenging and fulfilling career, which helps provide a comfortable lifestyle for me and my family.
- I’m not busy checking things off my weekly list, ranging from “call the electrician” and “buy a birthday gift” to “pick up groceries” and “enrol kids in summer camp.” I’m blessed that this list is not filled with items like “pick up meds,” “organize shifts for hospital visits,” and “find a 2nd job to pay the bills.”
Of course, looking for rainbows in a hail storm is a work in progress. Here are a few things I need to be more mindful of and could benefit from some good old-fashioned reframing:
- Not rushing off the phone with my parents when they call to check in (even when they call during dinner/homework time); the truth is, they are often calling to sort out logistics regarding helping me with the kids or just to say hi. I promise, I’m very grateful for their support, and realize this habit must be quashed!
- Giving my husband my attention for a few minutes during the day when he wants to check in, not just when I want to. If he calls while I’m working towards a deadline, I could definitely be more patient.
- Using kid-friendly language (instead of some other words) when I’m trying to get a message across to my young children, probably because I’m in a rushed frame of mind when I don’t need to be.
So, what do you say? Next time we bump into each other, let’s talk about why we’re blessed instead of busy.
It not only makes for much more meaningful conversation, it’s actually good for our health! Achor has the studies – lots of them – to prove it!
And feel free to throw some tips on patience this dreamer’s way. My parents, husband, and kids will thank you.