In the background of many things that make happy lies the power of action: work, as in working to make a living; feeling of use, as in having a purpose; moving, making, exploring, and getting better at skills. They are all different things that make us happier, and they are all activities.
Inertia, lack of energy, lack of motivation are always a problem, though – and maybe even more so today, when there is such a bewildering array of possibilities.
Even just buying a box of cereal in the supermarket can get exhausting; if you don’t have a favorite kind but want to choose on the basis of health, there is so much choice and so much – and contradictory, to boot – information, it is enough for a nervous breakdown.
With more important choices, long-term plans, things only get worse. The stakes are raised, but the world seems to be changing so fast, there’s no way of telling whether anything you decide to pursue now will be of any good by the time you’ve actually made it. Let’s not even get started thinking about all the predictions of environmental problems, “converging crises”…
Add to that all the energy that gets sapped when you have a boring, but necessary, job, bills to pay, and maybe even debt that’s looming in the background.
There’s enough going on to make anyone just want to pack it in, turn on the TV, and let it all slide. We very quickly ignore what’s making us miserable. It may be one way of being able to put up with problems and go on, but it does not make matters any better.
It all makes the importance of getting active all the stronger, in fact. (Hence, why I’m pointing this out separately). Especially when you consider how we spend so much of our time, whenever we feel the need to just relax, with TV – and then look at the recent finding that there is one thing happy people have in common, no matter their education, marital status, or other elements that also contribute to happiness: On a day-to-day basis, they watch less TV.
Paradoxically – but typical for the way one needs to make a difference between immediate pleasure and deeper well-being – people who are asked what they are doing and whether they are happy at a certain time of day will typically answer that watching TV is pleasurable. All in all, however, TV consumption is a good indicator of unhappiness – whether unhappiness leads to more TV watching, or more TV watching leads to less happiness.
It’s not enough to be busy, of course. Especially if the activities are not self-directed, if you have to do just too many things and feel rushed, you will probably want nothing more than some time to just chill and not do anything. Something’s got to give.
The danger, though, is that the feeling of having no energy, no time, gets you into a spiral where you do ever fewer active things -even those that would interest you, fascinate you, mean that you are pursuing a goal of your own. And therefore, things that would give you new energy, open up new avenues for the future. And for many people, even just giving up on TV (or nowadays, playing fewer games online), frees up quite enough time.
Getting up and doing something can be one of the most difficult things. The good side of that problem is that once you get into an activity, you manage to start, you may notice that the start was indeed the most difficult obstacle to overcome. Once in motion, you keep going…
John P. Robinson & Steven Martin, 2008. What Do Happy People Do? Soc Indic Res (2008) 89:565–571 [DOI 10.1007/s11205-008-9296-6]