Doing Things Makes You Feel Better


Every now and then, I’ll have a super lazy Sunday afternoon, where I’m mostly horizontal on the couch, in front of the TV, essentially being a complete slob. Those afternoons sound like they should be relaxing, but it’s the reverse: I end up in a pissy mood, feel crappy, and am usually less happy than I expected I’d be after a day of doing nothing.

This bothered me for awhile. I mean, I work my ass off during the week, shouldn’t a relaxing day on the couch be a nice respite from the insanity of the previous (and upcoming) week? That’s what I thought, but it’s not how it works.

As it turns out, doing nothing makes you feel worse.

The Myth of the Tensionless State, and “Sunday Neurosis”

In “Man’s Search for Meaning”, Victor Frankl speaks to what drives meaning in peoples’ lives, and how that meaning might be discovered and acted upon. In one section, he notes:

I consider it a dangerous misconception of mental hygiene to assume that what man needs in the first place is equilibrium…a tensionless state. What man actually needs is not a tensionless state, but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.

He goes on to talk about “Sunday Neurosis”, a condition where people realize the void of meaning in their lives, in the quiet of the weekend, a realization that can be traced back to incidences of suicide.

Now, that sounds bleak, but there’s good news - preventing that neurosis, and on a smaller scale, the blah feeling that comes from just laying around, is easily resolved.

Do something.

Action Means Happiness

Lawrence Yeo wrote a great piece entitled “When You Are Depressed, Make Something”. In it, he talks about his own struggle with depression, and a birthday gift from a friend (DJ lessons) that broke him out of that negative cycle. His main point is this: creating things makes you happier, and if you’re feeling down or depressed, making something is a way to help alleviate those feelings.

I’ll go one step further - accomplishing anything can help you feel more positive, happier, and drag you out of the lazy Sunday blues. Whether you’re making something, practicing a sport, cleaning a room, cooking a meal, or anything else that requires action and implies accomplishment, you’ll feel better actually doing something than you will doing nothing. Call it the paradox of relaxation.

Vacation vs. Being Lazy

I know what you’re thinking. “Um, I’m totally fine sitting and doing nothing. I go to the beach, hang out, and do zero, and it’s relaxing, rejuvinating.” That misses the point. When you choose to do an activity in order to relax (“I’m going to go sit on the beach, I’m going to chill at this bar for a few hours”, “I’m going to sit and binge watch this series”), you are doing something. Action doesn’t have to mean activity - it means intentionality, and intentionality drives accomplishment, which in turn drives happiness. It’s the moments where you’re aimless, laying on the couch by default, where the feeling of meaningless can start to creep in.

The Virtues of Hobbies and Side Projects

I’m a big fan of having hobbies and working on side projects. At any given time, I’ve got a number of things going on to keep me busy, and keep my mind sharp. Whether it’s brewing beer, building random web apps, playing golf, or something else, those activities help to bring meaning into my life by giving me goals to struggle for. I think that everyone needs to have these kind of things in their life, in order to bring more richness and variety, as well as providing outlets for staying active (mentally, emotionally and physically) outside of the day-to-day work life. On a Sunday afternoon, it’s those activities you can turn to, in order to fill the void.

Feeling Down? Do Something. Anything

Next time you’re feeling down, find something to do. Pry yourself off the couch, and clean under your bathroom sink. Write a blog post. Take a walk around the neighborhood. Instead of sitting and aimlessly browsing Facebook while HGTV blares in the background, find something intentional to get involved in, however small. Trust me, you’ll instantly feel better.

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