WHEN he started writing his column many years ago, he wanted to keep writing until he “discovered the secret of human happiness”.
“Obviously, I never expected to find the secret, but on some level I must’ve known there were questions I needed to confront – about anxiety, commitment -phobia in relationships, control-freakery and building a meaningful life,” says English writer Oliver Burkeman.
Now, he’s decided to call it a day.
“So what did I learn? What follows isn’t intended as an exhaustive summary,” he says. “But these are the principles that surfaced again and again, and that now seem to me most useful for navigating times as baffling and stress-inducing as ours.”
There will always be too much to do – and this realisation is liberating
Today, more than ever, there’s just no reason to assume any fit between the demands on your time – all the things you’d like to do or feel you ought to do – and the amount of time available.
Due to capitalism, technology and human ambition, these demands keep increasing, while your capacities remain largely fixed.
It follows that the attempt to “get on top of everything” is doomed.
Indeed, it’s worse than that – the more tasks you get done, the more you’ll generate.
The upside is that you needn’t berate yourself for failing to do it all, since doing it all is structurally impossible.
The only viable solution is to make a shift: from a life spent trying not to neglect anything, to one spent proactively and consciously choosing what to neglect in favour of what matters most.
When stumped by a life choice, choose ‘enlargement’ over happiness
I’m indebted to the Jungian therapist James Hollis for the insight that major personal decisions should be made not by asking, “Will this make me happy?”, but, “Will this choice enlarge me or diminish me?”
We’re terrible at predicting what’ll make us happy: the question swiftly gets bogged down in our narrow preferences for security and control.
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24 September 2020