I’ve been kind of sick for the last week. Not incredibly sick, but just sick enough that I was disinclined to do anything. It was terrible. My productivity went into the toilet. I became emotionally depressed. And all I wanted to do was lie in bed and sleep a lot.
But I did learn something from it. I’m just not exactly sure what that thing was.
I think it was maybe that it’s okay to do nothing for a week?
A year ago, I had this earth-shattering epiphany–a real road to Damascus type of moment–when I realized that the key to happiness is just to try to be happy each day. I don’t really know how to lead a happy life, but I do have a fairly good sense of how to have a happy day. And if I concentrate on that, then the happy life will follow.
This epiphany reorganized my thinking on how to spend my time. Now, I try to make sure that every single day, I do everything that I need to. Every day, I try to read books, do my writing, do my social networking, answer my emails, eat right, sleep well, etc.
Which is all great stuff that I am happy about.
But the downside to this epiphany is that it came with this incredible sense of time passing. I look on my spreadsheet and see a week go by in an instant, and I think, “That was a week of my life. Did I use it wisely? Was I productive? Was I happy?”
And there’s an anxiety in that thought which does not please me.
Because the truth is that no matter what you do during the day, at the end of it, it’s gone. Happy moments fade just as quickly as sorrowful ones. You can’t store up a happy day and spend it later on. And if you have a sad day, then you haven’t really lost or wasted anything. The day is just as gone, no matter what you do.
Being happy and being productive are good things. But they’re games, just like anything else.
My week of sickness taught me that it’s okay to have an unproductive week (month, year, life). I pay lip service to the idea that accomplishing things doesn’t really make us happy (because, to me, that seems obvious). But it’s obvious that I don’t really believe it, because I spend each day trying to accomplish things. And I rate myself on the basis of whether or not I’ve accomplished them. If I have, then I’m good; if I haven’t, then I’m bad. My life is full of unexamined assumptions like that; ways in which the ethos of the rat race have worked themselves into my soul.
And that’s fine too. But when I get mired in that kind of thought, it’s good to step back and remember that none of it really matters. Even happiness is ephemeral.