If you are a workaholic it might feel like your life is successful. But it could be putting a strain on your relationships and health. It is possible to slow down and have a rewarding life
We often choose our jobs, careers, activities and even friends out of a desire to impress others. Living this way can make our lives feel like a series of tests that we must pass to be truly valuable people. We can end up workaholics, striving to gain approval without finding out what truly makes us happy.
How we become addicted to busyness
The addiction to external rewards can be hard to break. We are eager for the gold star, the tick, the good grades, the praise, the money and the material rewards. Doing things for reasons other than financial success, power or prestige can feel like a waste of time in our productivity-based society. But this is how we can end up a workaholic.
The problem with basing our lives on external rewards
One of the problems with seeking outward rewards is that they don’t always come. The extra work doesn’t always result in a bonus or promotion. The fabulous meal doesn’t always elicit the praise we hoped for. Others don’t always appreciate our work. And this can leave wondering why we bothered.
Another problem is that no matter how well we do, someone will always be doing better, earning more, looking more beautiful, being more spiritual, scholarly or artistic. Thirdly, when we spend so much time doing things for external rewards, there is little time left to do the things that make us happy for happiness sake. And that does not lead to a joyful, peaceful, satisfying life.
But the main problem is that we are basing our happiness on things that are outside our control. We can’t control how others will view us or what we do, say or wear. This makes us feel vulnerable and can negatively affect our self-esteem.
Why we should do things just for fun
The intrinsic rewards of activities can be many, but they are all felt within. I won’t tell you that doing the things that you love will reduce your stress levels and blood pressure – though they may well do that – because the idea is to move away from thinking about the outward benefits and do things just because of the pure inner joy doing the activity gives us.
What a person finds intrinsically rewarding is as individual and unique as we all are of course; but it basically comes down to doing things you love, just because you love to do them. The satisfaction we experience from doing these things arises from somewhere deep inside rather than from the outer results.
Doing things for the love of them means we are not always reliant on other people’s opinions. Paradoxically, we often become really good at things when we are not worried about what others will think.
How do we find the things that truly make us happy?
Some people know what they love to do, but for many of us, years of being a workaholic mean we have lost sight of our deepest desires. It might be worth starting with an activity you used to do as a child or one that you have always dreamed of trying. Noticing what activities others do that give you a little jolt of envy can be helpful, too. If you envy someone who has traveled the world, written a book or started salsa dancing at the age of eighty, your feelings are giving you a clue as tow hat might light you up.
Avoid any activities that you see as accomplishments. If you want to read War and Peace because you love to get lost in a book then that is one thing. However, don’t do it just to impress someone else! If you want to learn Italian because you love the sound of it, or have always wanted to travel Italy, great – but don’t do it because it will look good on your CV. Don’t choose an activity for how it makes you look. Choose an activity for the way it makes you feel. As Ernest Hemingway said: “You must be prepared to work always without applause.”
How doing things just for sheer joy might make you feel
When you find the right activity for you, you should feel something like the following:
- Time flies by – you thought you had been doing something for half an hour and it was actually three hours.
- The activity is absorbing – you are totally immersed and don’t worry or fret about problems.
- You feel a sense of calmness and relaxation at the same time as a sense of enthusiasm and excitement.
- You feel mentally and physically challenged but without anxiety or stress.
When you have been doing what you love and feeling good, you might feel guilty for ‘wasting time.’ Remember that the point of the activity was to produce the good feelings, nothing more. And if an activity doesn’t make you feel that way try something new.
In a world that sees being a workaholic as a good thing, you might not get much praise for the poem you wrote, the golf round where you beat your previous score or the crossword you finished. However, the sense of peace, relaxation, satisfaction, love and joy will be all the reward you need.