Why 'Me Time' Matters

Having adequate — and unstructured — leisure time enhances both creativity and enjoyment of life

I just finished a weekend that was oddly (and for me, uncharacteristically) blah. So Monday morning, I walked myself through all the things I had done since finishing work on Friday, trying to figure out what I did wrong.

At first glance, it seemed strange, because I had been busy with many of the things that I consider critical to weekend bliss. I had worked out both days (one bike ride, one yoga class). I had seen some close friends, spent time with my dogs, pushed the vacuum around, shopped at my favorite farmers' market and cooked a few decent meals. It was the kind of weekend that usually makes me feel all the parts of my life are in balance.

It took me a while, but I finally put my finger on it: While these were all activities I enjoyed, the weekend had contained a few too many of them. Because I had committed to meeting other people several different times, a time limit was attached to almost every event. Instead of being deliciously open-ended and leisurely, my weekend became a chore

Without realizing, I had let too many of my weekend "want tos" turn into "have tos": I had promised to meet one friend at yoga, so she was expecting me. I had arranged to meet another at the market, which meant I had to hustle past the fiddle player and the new flower stall to catch up with her. And Saturday night's dinner, instead of landing on the table when I felt like it, needed to be dished up at a specific time, so my home-from-college son could make it to another engagement that evening.

Believe me, I'm not complaining. I know how lucky I am to have a life with so many wonderful people in it, and so many levers I can pull to crank up my happiness whenever I want to. But it was an eye-opener to see how easy it is for me, without realizing it, to turn my lovely leisure time pursuits turn into chores, not blessings.

The point of what I do on the weekends (in between the mundane chores we all have to do) is to recharge and regenerate. It's the adult version of play, and happiness researchers have shown, over and over, that having adequate (and unstructured) leisure time is a big part of how much we enjoy life. It's even productive: Innovation experts say people who know how to relish their unstructured time are often the most creative, and the happiest in their work.

This coming weekend, I have vowed not to squander any of my leisure time. I'm tilting the seesaw back in the other direction. I'm putting the "want to" list back on top, and saving the "have-tos" for Monday.

Tags: well being

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