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Is a Busy Life a Happy Life?


Original photo by Mike McCormick

My life has been fairly busy lately.

I say this because I just picked up a second freelance project I’ll be working on in addition to my full-time job, the book I’m writing, the social media column I recently launched, and the personal blog I try to update whenever I can.

I don’t say it as a way of establishing status. Being busy doesn’t make me important. It just means I have to work extra hard to find time to go on a date night out with my husband or to take my 8-month old puppy to her happy place out on the trails.

Yes, you read that correctly – I have a puppy. No kids. So how busy can I really be, right? I get it.

To be honest, I’ve almost always felt busy; even during periods in my life I look back on now and think, that was not “busy”. It doesn’t matter though because at the time, I thought it was.

Life is a Constant Balancing Act

For much of my life I have had to work to achieve balance. I am a middle child – I grew up experiencing an equal balance of life as both an older and a younger sibling. My parents got divorced right before I started high school; I learned how to balance my weekends, birthdays, and Christmas mornings between two homes. I played competitive sports growing up – I had to figure out how to balance my time between schoolwork, sports and social activities.

Soon I had to add a part-time job into the mix. Then a boyfriend, and long distance friendships.

I went from working towards essay due dates to print publication deadlines, taking pride in balancing my schedule and rarely missing a beat. Next came a job search, which led to full-time employment. Before I knew it I was planning a wedding on top of it all. And as soon as that was over, I added a toddler puppy to the mix.

It seems life just keeps getting busier. And according to numerous studies, this means I am becoming happier.

Happy People are Busy People

Newly published research says we’re happier when we’re busy. We’re not talking “I only slept four hours” busy; but rather “I have little or no excess time and yet seldom feel rushed” busy.

This changes everything.

A while ago I wrote a blog post about the need to do absolutely nothing. It was based on a study suggesting we need to minimize distractions in order to give inspiration a chance to strike.

While I agree we need to decrease interruptions, it’s rare we’re doing absolutely nothing anymore. I can’t even stand in line at the grocery store without checking my Twitter feed.

For me, inspiration tends to strike when I am reading a book or article, or when I’m taking the dog for a walk. Even in these activities I am doing something that adds value to my day; I’m completing a task that needs completion, which makes me feel productive. And I have to admit, a productive day is a happy day in my books.

So, at what point did the act of “doing nothing” become a productivity drain?

Perhaps it was at the same time we started associating leisure with laziness; or when boredom became burdensome.

Is this mentality driven by the YOLO shouters of the world? We know our time on this Earth is limited, therefore we must fill every waking moment doing something of value?

Suddenly the work we fill our days with is central to our lives; it’s where we find meaning and purpose. The question “what do you do for fun?” is becoming more difficult to answer. But being busy is fun, right?

Time to Stop and Reflect

I think there’s a fine line between happy-busy and stupid-busy. We have to know where to draw it. Stay busy; set goals, challenge yourself. But give yourself time to get it all done. Allow yourself the chance to reflect on what you’ve accomplished. This reflection is an important piece to the puzzle; it’s what makes a busy day a good day.

“Without time to reflect, our drive to show status can mean we create busyness even when it doesn’t exist,” writes Brigid Schulte, staff writer at the Washington Post.

There’s a difference between meaningful busyness and pointless busyness – don’t let yourself become overwhelmed to the state you can no longer distinguish between the two.


Charlotte Ottaway

Charlotte is the founder of Web of Words. She helps solopreneurs and small business owners create real human connections online through blogging and social media. Her work has been published in Maclean's, Canadian Business, Zoomer, The Globe and Mail, The Huffington Post Canada and other Canadian publications. Better known by family and friends as Carly, she currently resides in Newmarket with her husband and fur-babe. To learn more, check out her portfolio at charlotteottaway.com and follow her on Twitter @charlottaway.

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