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The Pursuit of Happiness: A reflection on Untying Your Self-Worth from Productivity

In our over-stressed, obsessively goal-oriented, running on copious amounts of caffeine society, exhaustion is no stranger to those chasing after having it all. Between our multi-hyphenate occupations, our hobbies turned side-hustles, and our incessant need to perfect every moment to withstand the scrutiny of social media, that exhaustion is worn like a badge of honor, an indication of our go-getter attitudes and pursuit of personal fulfillment. While there is an endless barrage of tools and texts intended to light your fire to do more, perhaps what we really need is a little more encouragement to simply be. Do you notice yourself with an endless to-do list, or perhaps rarely scheduling time off? If we base our selfworth on what we can accomplish and produce, what happens when the work stops?

Deriving Self-Worth from Productivity
As I sat on my counselor’s couch, thumb fervently scrolling through my phone in a futile attempt to find a day to schedule our next appointment together, the reality of my escaping from the overwhelming grief in my life sat in front of my tired eyes. Sheepishly, I had to tell him that the next available time slot I had would be at least another month away; a whole month just to find an hour of self-care time. It was a sobering moment. I could physically see my overfilled schedule staring right back at me.

The reality is that this way of being is pervasive in our culture and is not exclusive to those wading through grief or trauma.

Upon meeting people for the first time, one of the most common questions we ask them is “so, what do you do?” Our society has come to value, to a fault, productivity. We are constantly chasing to do more. While in theory the idea of doing more equaling more success is comforting, the reality is life is much more unpredictable than that. Sometimes in life, we aren’t able to “do” all the time, and that lack of doing should not cause our self-worth to plummet. If we

allow that to happen, then the moment those activities cease, we will suddenly find ourselves unworthy, a psychologically damaging ideology indeed. While hard work and commitment are admirable, there is a stark difference between having a busy life for the sake of busyness versus having an intentionally full life.

Recognizing the Difference between Busy and Full
When you recognize the difference between being busy versus leading a full life, you can deliberately choose
the activities that fulfill you. Rest is not optional— it is vital. Your muscles don’t grow while you’re crunching away at the gym; they grow while you sleep and the muscle fibers repair themselves into a stronger version of their former selves. In that moment sitting in my counselor’s office, I realized that I needed to make a choice. The busyness of my life was running me ragged, so I began actively planning for days off. Can you begin to recognize where this busyness plays out in your own life?

The process to change this habit requires practice. Like anything else, it can be difficult to untangle long-held beliefs, especially when they have been so tightly woven into society’s expectation tapestry. What if we dared to tug at the string though? Perhaps we will find that what lays underneath serves us so much more than an unobtainable ideology. If suddenly, our self-worth was a given, and not something to be chased after, then perhaps we can find freedom in living in the now. The contentious Sigmund Freud once claimed, “How bold does one get when one is sure of being loved.” If we can be sure that our selfworth does not depend on our productivity, but rather is an innate part of our being, love for ourselves will be much easier to access. When we are sure of being loved, we are now free to be bold.

Permission to Rest
Imagine personal fulfillment coming from laying your head on a pillow, your heart fully content in knowing that no matter what got done today or didn’t, you are loved and accepted beyond measure. Just like your muscles gain strength at rest, the soul operates in much the same way. This is the ancient wisdom of ending every physical yoga practice with savasana, a pose meant to be corpse-like; you simply lay down and do nothing while integrating the practice you just completed. It is in doing nothing that we absorb all that we have done. As we move closer to the notoriously busy holiday season, I hope you recall the difference between being busy and full. Prioritize scheduling time off for yourself. Take a deep breath in, roll those shoulders up to your ears, and release them back down. Go to bed, you are already worthy.

An immigrant living in the heart of Grand Rapids, “Shoosh” is a practitioner of mindful living and a believer in the healing and transformative powers of love, kindness and dance.

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