Happiness Hack: Stay Busy Doing Pointless Things

Staying busy is a quality tool to keep the mind running smooth. It works even if the things you keep busy with are completely pointless.

Last weekend I was in the bath eating licorice thinking, “This would be a good opening to a blog post.” It had nothing to with anything and therefore probably isn’t a good opening to anything, but it sounded like a way I’d start a story.

Anyway, I’ve been reading more lately on anxiety and depression-related topics and something that comes up over and over as a tool is something rather simple: staying busy.

It makes sense. Keeping the mind focused on a task or goal or movie or whatever is a great way to stop it from thinking negative thoughts. So if your thoughts naturally tend towards the negative, you can put up a roadblock of activities to stop that from happening.

I’ve always known this, but the problem that stalled me over and over is that I’ve wanted everything I do to have an actual purpose. I want to build big, amazing things! I want to create something that I’d be proud to put my name on! I want to learn and grow and select everything really carefully so it’s tailored to exactly the life I want to live!

But there are so many options. Take projects. It’s a broad term, but it covers how I think and approach the things I do. I like a project. The problem is that I can never decide which project to pursue. And then my mind spins: that’s too close to what I do for a living but maybe I’m in the wrong profession anyway and maybe I live in the wrong city and should I move maybe I should move but then I’ll need to make new friends and maybe I should focus on building on the life I already have and…and my mind spins on and nothing ever gets started.

So I end up in the bathtub eating licorice.

What I realized though (not in the bathtub) is that I have a more fundamental issue to solve — the way my mind does (or does not, depending on your perspective) work. And in fixing that, any project will do. Any ol’ thing that requires thought will stop my brain spinning and is worthy of being done just for that reason. For example, I can’t spend all of my free hours peeling potatoes, but I can write a truly awful novel about futuristic chicken farming that no one will ever read.

Spoiler: in the future, the chickens are farming us!

Staying busy to serve my health, not the things I keep busy with, is a freeing thought. That I need to keep busy to keep happy means anything I do gets me closer to happiness and thus is worthwhile. And if I accidentally stumble upon something that helps or entertains another human — bonus!

So the new habit I’m developing is pretty much the Nike slogan. If I get excited about something, anything – an idea, a thought, a type of candy – I can put my time and thought into it with no expectation of getting something out of the other side.

Except, maybe, a little better quality of life.