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Staying Busy and Being Happy

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Going back to my school teacher days, many years ago, I remember how, as May and June got closer both teachers and youngsters craved the end of school, summer vacation and the ability to languorously enjoy those warm days at the beach. All of us anticipated enjoying having nothing to do. Seems logical that we would feel this way. Right? Wrong. I remember how those long summer days became very boring. I know I looked forward to the return of school, work and being busy.

I was not alone in feeling bored and that is why many teachers ended up finding things to do. Some worked at summer school, filled adjunct assistant professor positions, worked as counselors at sleep away summer camps and found many other activities with which to keep busy. In fact, parents sent their children off to summer camps of various types, just to keep them from getting bored at home and becoming a nuisance.

How is this possible? Don’t all of us crave nothing to do? yes, we do but, too much of a good thing stops being good.

Recent research published in the journal, Psychological Science, showed that we are happy when we are busy. The study found that it made no difference whether the busy activity had a purpose or not as long as the individual believed it did.

One of the challenges faced by people who retire after a long life of working is deciding how to use the extra time available. Much like the teachers I worked with, doing nothing soon becomes very boring, even depressing. What impresses me is the creativity of people to find things to do that absorb their attention and keep them involved in life. One person, a former engineer, decided to use his garage to build a sail boat. It took a few years to complete the project but, once done, he successfully launched it and spends lots of time, with his wife and friends, sailing.

A friend of mine, a retired French language teacher, has always love railroads, especially freight trains. He now belongs to a railroad club with like minded people who visit rail yards and even meet some engineers who let them run some of the engines with their supervision. They also write about, photograph and study the history of American railroads.

I know other people who build model trains, collect stamps, coins, baseball cards and so on.

Some people have difficulty finding things to do. They convince themselves that their interests are either, childish, meaningless or, even worse, that they have no interests. Its important to remind yourself that, a leisure activity or work activity is worthwhile if it has meaning and importance to you. As far as some activities being childish, it makes no difference. We need time to play, have fun, revert back to “childish activities.” One person’s childish activities or another persons fun.

There are people who do not retire but continue to work or find a new job after they retire. At any age, work is not only a way to earn a living, but a way to keep busy.

It should go without saying that one of the worst aspects of unemployment is having nothing to do. Unfortunately, too many people have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Not only do they lose their livelihood but an important way to keep busy. After searching for a job, it is often impossible to feel energetic enough to keep busy with something unrelated to employment. However, even with this, there may be a solution worth considering. I know of one person who, after losing his job, started doing lots of volunteer work in an area of interest to him. To cut to the chase, let me just say that he was able to turn his volunteer work into a paying job. Not a paying job with lots of money but a paying job that provided some money, heath insurance and a way to keep busy.

The point is that it is better to do things than sit at home doing nothing. If you have any doubt, be assured that there are plenty of things to do.

How do you spend your leisure time? What do you do to stay busy? Is it difficult for you to find things to do?

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD.

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