Because I’m working on a book about happiness, anxiety, and creativity I’ve been thinking a lot about time. As in, a lot of people, including me, feel anxious about not having enough time.
By definition, being human and mortal means not having enough time.
Most of us can think of more things to do than we could ever engage in during an average lifespan.
Yet there are periods in my life when I’ve felt extreme anxiety over not having enough time and others when I’ve felt, in contrast, more relaxed about time. As if I’m truly enjoying the time I have despite it being limited.
So what is “enough time”?
Doing What You Don’t Love
I love to read.
But last night something strange happened. As I read a book I’m halfway through and so far don’t particularly love (The Shining Girls—I’ll review later on Goodreads), it hit me.
Reading a book I don’t love and finishing it all the same makes me feel like I have plenty of time.
Before I went to law school I finished almost every novel I ever started, whether I liked it or not. It happened a fair amount because I often picked books at random from library shelves and read them simply because I liked the descriptions.
Since law school, I’ve chosen only books or authors I felt pretty sure I’d like. And if I didn’t after the first 10-20 pages, I stopped reading.
The freedom to read something I don’t love tells me that I am not merely cramming things I enjoy into tiny little pieces of time.
Without A Purpose
Reading nonfiction that doesn’t directly relate to my legal or writing work also makes me feel like I have a lot of time.
Because it’s reading simply for the sake of learning whether or not it might help my profession. The reality is that kind of reading almost always factors into my writing, teaching, or law practice. In fact, it’s probably much better for all three to read widely.
But back when so many hours of my life were already filled with practicing law and I barely squeezed in writing, I felt I couldn’t justify reading non-fiction simply for the sake of it. If I had free time to read, that sliver went to novels I knew I’d love.
A Few Moments Of Rest
Because I’m still rehabbing from breaking my foot earlier this year I need to take a lot of breaks when I walk.
That led to me sitting in some of Chicago‘s many lovely outdoor plazas and reading—or simply sitting. For the first time since I can remember I feel like I’m truly enjoying the summer, despite that for the first month of it I barely got outside.
The difference is that now once a day I’m truly spending time in the city, not just walking from Point A to Point B as quickly as I can.
Putting It Together
Yes, I love reading, and I also love Chicago. So spending more time on both makes me happier.
But I figured out my feeling of having enough time comes from 3 things.
- Doing (Or Being)
Allowing myself to read or sit for no reason other than I want or need to do that makes me feel less rushed.
It means I’m taking moments to immerse myself in where I am regardless whether it’s the absolute best use of my time.
The primary purpose isn’t to achieve anything.
It’s to do the thing. To read simply to read. To rest simply to rest.
Finishing a book I don’t particularly love is an experiment.
I’m letting myself see if by the end I might feel it was worthwhile reading that book. Whether that’s because the ending makes the rest of it resonate more or because I learned something I otherwise wouldn’t have or because I simply stepped into the shoes of a character I don’t especially like.
Likewise, stopping at a plaza because I need to rest means I experience things I didn’t plan.
Yesterday I rested on the outskirts of an ice cream social and heard a band of four guys who sang beautiful harmonies. Another time I discovered a Farmer’s Market I hadn’t known would be there.
It’s not as if in the past I ignored the city around me. You can see many photos of Chicago on my Instagram feed.
But mostly those photos were taken as quick shots on my way somewhere or out my window or off my deck from home. I’m not sitting and absorbing the sights and sounds and smells. (A few of those smells aren’t pleasant in the middle of Chicago. But others are—like the cheese and caramel mix from Garrett’s Popcorn or lilacs along an underpass near where I live.)
And rather than sitting only during the five minutes when the weather is perfect, I’m feeling heat and humidity, fog and drizzle.
So for me, apparently, having enough time means the freedom to do things I didn’t plan and that I’m not sure I’ll enjoy.
How about you? What makes you feel like you have enough time?