Specifically, it got me thinking about how society approves and rewards a busy lifestyle as a sign of productivity and a measure of a life well-spent. Back then, Tocqueville wrote an interesting observation about this if you fancy reading it.
A native of the United States clings to this world's goods as if he were certain never to die; and he is so hasty in grasping at all within his reach that one would suppose he was constantly afraid of not living long enough to enjoy them. He clutches everything, he holds nothing fast, but soon loosens his grasp to pursue fresh gratifications.
You see, I am one of those people who is just fine doing very little and happy watching TV. I watch all kinds of TV, and when I don't find anything new or interesting, I would watch reruns of a previous show. You don't want to know how many times I've watched The West Wing.
For me, watching TV in my comfy pants is almost equivalent to entering a sacred space, where I can forget where I am, the to-do list that’s waiting for me, or the nagging worries of work and life and just be where I want to be right then and there, and let my mind wander off, even for the briefest of time. Just for that hour and left to my own devices, I don't have to figure out how to solve world hunger or think about the endless reports waiting to be written and blah blah.
Most of my TV watching is nothing highbrow, cultured or trying to impress. It's really just me zoning out on my couch or bed.
I know that some (if not a lot) people think TV watching is unproductive, lazy and a complete waste of your entire weekend. Stephen Covey, the guy who brought the world the infamous ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ tells you to eliminate Quadrant 4 - things that are not urgent or important like mindless TV watching.
Last year, I enrolled in Covey’s training as part of work and while admittedly I could do more to make my life ‘effective’, I mostly walked away feeling massively guilty about my Quadrant 4 activities. The trainer made me feel quite embarrassed that I’ve spent my weekend before the training bingeing on Game of Thrones. I am not advocating TV-watching a the expense of not having a social life or doing actual things that are good for you. My point is that it’s fine and OK if we sometimes watch TV because we enjoyed what we are experiencing. Like all things in life, balance is key.
The whole sense I got was that if you don't have weekend plans, brunch, projects to complete, play-dates organised, fitness class, parties to attend or socialising to do, the judgement from the rest of world is: you're not doing your weekend right.
You, my friend, have just wasted your entire weekend.
Never mind the fact that you didn't run your two days off into the ground, cramped with just more things to do on top of the exhausting week you’ve just endured. No, the popular conclusion is your weekend must be spent doing stuff.
Every weekend. Over and over again. To no end.
We pile on more and more on our plates. For who knows what.
We don't say no to things we don’t quite feel like doing.
We secretly crave recognition for taking on more. ‘Hey social media, see all these stuff I am doing this weekend #productiveweekend’
We feel lost and restless if we have nothing planned for the weekend. Even if we secretly just want to do the bare minimum. And no, hanging out with your cat, reading and watching old Cary Grant films somehow do not count.
This is exactly how we run ourselves ragged into the burnout fire.
I am constantly in awe of my friends and peers whose weekends are filled with hiking, brunch, fitness classes, boat trips and lots of socialising. It’s wonderful if that’s what you really want to do on your weekends. Hells yes to what makes you most happy. You do just that.
But I am often left wondering if they ever do nothing or very little. Like sitting on the porch or sofa and simply enjoying your cuppa (right now my favourite thing to do given autumn is here). Or watching funny Youtube bloopers and getting into a laughing fit with your partner/friend/pet. Or reading quietly under your blanket. Or daydreaming. Or napping.
At this point, I want to say I am fully aware that for some folks, doing nothing is a luxury, what with 2 (or more) kids, a dog, a toucan and various house stuff to look after over the weekend. I am not a parent (yet) and perhaps it's naive of me to think that everyone can do nothing or very little on the weekend (or any other day). No, I know for many, sitting around in their jammies, watching TV, and eating nachos are just not practical. Life happens, your kids calling for you for the millionth time, laundry to do, shed to fix and lots more. Many things are easier said than done.
But that's exactly it - life happens. No matter how we choose to view it, life will continue to happen. It’s true we can’t just discard our roles, and shut down. But if you just think about it - our responsibilities are still going to be there tonight, tomorrow and many days to come.
Lest we forget, we also have a responsibility to look after ourselves – even for a tiny wee moment - if we are to continue doing the roles in our lives. No one can do that for you. And perhaps before we completely wear ourselves out and then find it difficult to climb out of that burnout dump, we should try and do what we can, within the circumstances we are in, to take back some measure of control of our lives.
I don’t want you to run yourself exhausted into the ground. And I don’t think you want that either.
What we need is not more things to do to ease our burnout. We need less. We need to sometimes be OK with doing nothing. Or doing very little.
So to take back that control and stop burnout from completely taking over your life, I am proposing you start incorporating the ‘art of doing nothing’ in your lives. Starting this weekend. Really, give it a try.
I totally get that this would freak you out – WHAAATT – but give it a shot. And when in doubt, start small. That brainy Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu did say a journey of a thousand miles begin with a (small) step.
Like how about if you cancel some invitations that you don’t feel like going to this weekend?
How about spending Saturday evening curled up, with your favourite beverage and put on something you’ve always wanted to watch or that book you’ve been meaning to read?
Or perhaps asking your partner/spouse to take the kiddos out, while you get a few solid hours to yourself to enjoy that proper hot cup of tea, breathe and catch up on rest. You’ve worked hard all week, you deserve some space to do absolutely nothing.
Or if you’re like me, perhaps dedicating an afternoon to do very little? My Saturdays are just for that. I do some chores or work in the morning and from noon onward, I catch up on TV shows, read, nap and potter around doing very little. While I pursue this very important leisure time my way, my partner tidies the house up a little, washes the dishes, do laundry and generally leave me to my own devices. In the evenings, we spend time together. On Sundays, the roles are usually reversed. He gets his downtime to do the stuff he loves doing. Some weekends, we may do short trips or social activities with friends.
By any measure, we lead a rather unexciting and mundane life. No glamour posts on Instagram I’m afraid.
But we value our rest and time for ourselves far too much to want it any differently. We value idleness and doing very little when we can, not because we are lazy but because in those pockets of downtime, we get to the simplest things that truly matter. Away from the hustle and bustle of everyday, we get to reconnect with ourselves and with each other.
Too often, time for ourselves ranked low on the priority list. We get to it once we have done the ‘busy’.
It is time we stop viewing this ‘busyness’ as a sign of a life well-lived. It is not.
It is time we carve out space to truly enjoy our leisure time, without the guilt.