All Work & No Play…

You’ve heard it said that “all work and no play make Jack a dull boy.” I always wondered who “Jack” was…now I know he is all of us. But “all work and no play” does more than make “Jack a dull boy.” It also makes “Jack” an unhappy boy. In fact, a study involving participants from three different countries found that working hard for achievement had no impact on happiness. On the other hand, study participants who focused on creating the freedom to do things they enjoyed experienced a 13% increase in well-being. They experienced better sleep quality and life satisfaction as well. And those who focused on relaxing so they could engage in the hobby of their choice reported an 8% improvement in well-being. They also experienced a 10% decrease in stress and anxiety.

In other words, when “Jack” balanced his life and allowed himself the freedom to “play,” he experienced greater well-being and happiness. Balancing our lives to include opportunities to relax and pursue personal interests results in greater happiness, relaxation, and life satisfaction.

Why, then, has achievement become so important in our society? Why do we believe that achieving at school, competition, or work is the secret to happiness? We have seen time and again that this “achievement strategy” without the balance of relaxation, fun, and relationship actually leads to greater stress, isolation, and sorrow. Yet we continue to pursue achievement. Why? I believe there are at least 2 reasons (and I hate to admit to them).

  • Fear. We fear the future. We fear “not having enough.” We fear being unimportant and forgotten. In response to our fear, we strive to achieve. We believe that achievement will guarantee our security now and into the future. Unfortunately, we believed a lie. Achievement, at best, only brings achievement. We may have success but no time to enjoy the success, money but no one with whom to share the pleasures. We already said that “all work and no play make Jack a dull boy,” but “Jack” also finds “it’s lonely at the top.” The very actions we take in response to our fear lead us to a place in which we have lost the two most important components for relieving fear—contentment and relationships.
  • Pride. We take pride in our achievement. We come to believe that the company, the team, the church can’t get along without us. We are important, needed…absolutely needed. Without our efforts and wisdom, everything would fall apart. It’s not true. It’s only our pride whispering a lie into our hearts. I learned this lesson early in my career from an excellent supervisor. I worked with families who were in need. I became enmeshed with meeting their needs and trying to solve their problems. One day my supervisor asked me, “How long did they survive without you? How long did they survive before you came along?” The fact is, they survived a lifetime before me; and, as my years of work progressed, I learned that they survived after me. I could only serve, not heal. I could help, not save. And really, being available in a healthy way to help was, and is, enough.

Fear and pride interfere with our well-being and life satisfaction. They drive us into the compulsion to achieve. They steal us from our families. Our spouses and our children suffer as a result. However, balancing achievement with the freedom to relax and pursue those things we enjoy will increase our well-being and our life satisfaction. It will increase our ability to be present for our work… and probably achieve more as a result. Even more important, it will increase our ability to be present for our family and that will increase our spouse’s sense of worth and our children’s sense of security. It will allow us to be involved more with our families. That, by the way, is the best goal worth achieving.

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