How to be happy and accomplish almost anything.

The paradox of leisure is that either you have a lot of time or a lot of money; the two seem to be mutually exclusive. Learning to take advantage of the leisure time you do have can help you accomplish anything you set your mind to and live a more fulfilling life. 

Over the past five years, I have been in a state of semi-retirement yo-yoing between working a lot and being unemployed for a few months at a time. Having a lot of leisure time ‒ time without obligations ‒ was daunting. 

In order to not go broke or depressed, I needed to learn to make the best of my leisure time to accomplish my personal goals.  I needed to start living according to my values and make my leisure time constructive.

Motivation can be hard to find on a good day, let alone when your time seems unlimited, so stop looking for it. A great book about motivation is The Myth of Motivation by Jeff Haden.   

When you start being constructive with your leisure time, you will feel more motivated. This makes you even more constructive increasing your motivation until you have accomplished whatever you set your mind to. 

During my time between work, I was always working on something: learning a new language, improving my cooking skills, getting to know different cultures, staying healthy, etc. 

I took the opportunity to travel when I could. But travelling is expensive and I never had enough money to travel until my next contract even on a shoestring budget. 

When you have a lot of time, but a limited amount of money, it changes the way you think. It can be a very positive experience but it requires you to have a firm grasp of your values. Once you know what your values are, you know what to do with your time. 

You might not have months to devote to lining your life up with your values, but that doesn’t mean you can’t dedicate some uninterrupted time to the task. You can learn to do it with what little free time you have.

All you need to do is discover what your values are and how to work towards them by making your leisure time more constructively.

What is Constructive Leisure Time?

Constructive leisure time is time spent doing tasks that are physical, mental and/or socially stimulating. When I go for a walk with a family member I am satisfying all three aspects of the fulfilment triangle by walking (physical), speaking French (mental) and bonding with my family member (social).

The Fulfilment Triangle

Social

Social activities are anything done with other people. The most important criterion for social activities is that they should be done with the full attention of the participating members, either in person, via video chat or at a minimum over the phone. 

Social media does not count. Just because it is called social media, does not mean it satisfies your social circle. Social media and texting are very shallow forms of social interactions.

They don’t require you to invest more than a fraction of your attention to any one person which prevents you from forming a real connection with anyone. For more of this give Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport a read.    

Physical

Physical activities can be divided into two categories: action and expression. Actions can be as quick and easy as taking a cold shower, or as long and strenuous as running a marathon. My preferred physical action task is to go for walks either with someone or with an audiobook.

Meanwhile, physical expressions are activities where you are working to create something. Everyone is different in how they want to express themselves but typical examples of physical expressions are: cooking, painting, writing, gardening, dancing, etc. 

It is up to you how you choose to express and exercise yourself but it’s important that you try to do a little bit of both every day. These activities are also more likely to overlap with your mental circle as they readily exercise your creativity as well as your body.  

Mental

Mental activities are my favourite. These include things such as: meditating, reading, writing (like I said, over-lap is common here), learning a language or anything that requires you to use predominantly your brain. 

Just like your body, it is important to regularly exercise your brain. I have previously talked about the benefits of meditation and how it can help you feel spiritual but other mental activities, especially those that allow you to express yourself will help make you happier.

How constructive is your leisure time? 

There are three criteria that must be fulfilled in order for leisure activities to be considered constructive. They must be something that:

  1. you enjoy
  2. supports your values
  3. improve your life in some way

Do your leisurely activities fulfill all three criteria? If so, congratulations; you are using your leisure time constructively and don’t need me. If not, you might want to reconsider the role of those questionable activities in your life and I am here to help. 

Most activities can be changed to be more wholesome. Even watching Netflix can be a constructive use of your leisure time if done properly.  I used to entertain myself by watching Netflix series whenever I had free time.

Filling my leisure time with Netflix made me feel like I never had any. I still enjoy watching Netflix, but now I only do it conditionally. 

The three conditions I have set are: when I am not alone, when I am exercising or when I am watching it in a secondary language. Therefore, I have turned my habit of watching Netflix into an opportunity to bond with someone, exercise my body or practice a language.

When I started living by my values I realized that entertaining myself was not one of them, but bonding with loved ones, exercising and learning laguages are. This simple paradigm shift made it easy to make the activity I enjoy conditional.

Now that it is in line with my values, it is now a constructive use of my leisure time. It is also now harder for me to find a reason to watch Netflix which has decreased the amount of time I spend watching it.

Conversely, even if you don’t enjoy the activity directly, it might satisfy all three criteria if you enjoy the outcome of that activity. 

I don’t like running, but I do like being able to run and feeling good. Even though I don’t like running, I like the concequenses of running which makes running an enjoyable activity, even if it makes me miserable at the time.

How to be happy

Happiness is like a rabbit, if you chase it, it will run away, but if you wait with some grass in your hand, it will come to you. Being constructive with your leisure time is the life equivalent of waiting for the rabbit. 

When your leisure activities focus on your values rather than your entertainment you are constantly working towards the person you want to be. Happiness becomes a consequence of being the person you want to be.

“Too much undisciplined leisure time in which a person continually takes the course of least resistance gradually wastes a life”

Stephen Covey – 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

We all simply exist at one time or another, be it for an evening or a month. You are simply existing now, as you read this. What we do when we are simply existing is what defines us as a person. 

When you use this time to do what is valuable to you, you become happy. Whereas, when you are constantly trying to satisfy yourself you never seem to succeed. Stop chasing the rabbit and let him come to you.

My favourite leisure activities are: walking, hiking, reading, listening to audiobooks, learning languages and cooking. Your favourite activities are probably different and that’s okay, odds are our values are different. Find activities that compliment your values and you will find a greater level of happiness in your life.

Forget your goals

Unlike goals, when you orient your life in terms of values you go from having a specific target to an open-ended one. If your goal is to speak another language you will eventually reach a point in your life where you decide that you either speak that language enough or you no longer care. 

Meanwhile, if you value speaking that language you will always be working to improve or maintain it. When you are value-driven you will organize your leisure time to always be working towards improving some aspect of your life. 

To get started take some time to look at everything you currently do during your leisure time. Are those activities moving you in the direction of your values? If not, the best way to realign your life is to start scheduling your leisure time.

When you schedule your leisure, you accomplish activities that are in line with your values and make you happy. What I am suggesting here is a lifestyle change, rather than a diet. Change who you are, not what you do.

Diets don’t work because they end. Pretty much any diet program can help a person lose weight if they stick to it. The reason they fail is because they end and when they do people go back to living the lifestyle that made them fat. So, instead of starting a new fad diet make a lifestyle change. A permanent one.

It won’t be easy, but when you start living for the benefit of tomorrow instead of today you are signing yourself up for long-term happiness. Take the hard path, not because it is the right thing to do but because it is actually the one you want, it is the one that lines up with your values.

The final step to not being miserable

Once you have scheduled all your leisure time, the final step is to include some time in your life to practice aimlessness. Schedule an hour a day of unstructured leisure time to satisfy your guilty pleasures. 

This can be either saved up for a one-hour Netflix session in the evening or spread throughout the day in fifteen-minute chunks of scrolling social media, watching cat videos or whatever else you enjoy doing aimlessly. 

Limiting this time will give you a much greater appreciation for it ‒ but it is important to limit it and keep to that limit. By following this guide you will be making the most of your leisure time and will feel much more satisfied because of it. 

Now go get started, you are almost there.  

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