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Are you happier at your job, or during your free time? Unless you’ve followed the research of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi you would probably be surprised at the actual answer. He conducted studies which recorded peoples current levels of happiness at random points both during work and off-hours.

The surprising conclusion? People felt happier on the job, even though they said they would rather be at home.

Csikszentmihalyi believes that this is because, even if they dislike their job, work provides a constructive environment. It has rules, challenges and can be formatted to focus your otherwise wandering attention. Leisure, without any structure, can become to boredom and apathy.

A good portion of lifehack.org is devoted towards productivity. That means improving the quality of your working hours, so you can work less, get more done and achieve more on the job. But, what is the use of freeing up extra time from work if it will make you less happy?

Is Your Free Time Boring?

If Csikszentmihalyi and his research on the state of flow is any indication, the quality of most peoples free time is pitifully low. Worse, you might not even realize that your time off needs a checkup. This problem made me wonder how I could improve the quality of my own free-time.

The solution for some people is just to fill their entire time with work. By making themselves incredibly busy, they never have to face boredom or the possibility of an unstructured environment. However, the downside of this is that this often becomes a deathmarch as commitments overload the amount of time you have in each day.

The Art of Laziness – How to Be Happily Unproductive

My solution to Csikszentmihalyi’s dilemma was to become better at structuring my free-time so it can be engaging, but doesn’t become more work. Here were a few of the ideas I’ve found successful in trying to master the art of laziness:

  1. Get a Hobby – Pick up a creative activity that doesn’t have any goals attached. This is something that you enjoy doing, but doesn’t have the looming deadlines, schedule or to-do lists that is common to your workplace. I know corporate executives that manage to squeeze twenty minutes a day into their hobby and love it.
  2. Learn a Skill - Learning can be incredibly enjoyable when there is no GPA, performance evaluations or letter grades. Try learning a new language, take up martial arts or learn public speaking.
  3. Store Opportunities – How often do you see a flyer for an event or activity, but dismiss it because you don’t have the time? My suggestion is to save those interesting activities so that you can apply them when you do have time. Prepare opportunities for your time off in advance.
  4. Write Your Book - I’ve heard statistics that say 8 out of 10 people would like to write a book in their lifetime. Perhaps now is the time to start working on the first draft. I’ve found personal projects like these can be an enjoyable diversion from the externally imposed goals of work or school.
  5. Exercise – If you don’t like running or going to the gym, don’t force yourself. But there are many different interesting sports and activities that can move your body. Exercising can releases hormones in your brain which improve your mood.
  6. Always Have a Book – Unsatisfied with channel flipping? Having a book (not just reading blogs) requires you to use your brain. Light reading can be a great way to stay engaged without burning yourself out.
  7. Use Your Social Circle – Csikszentmihalyi noticed that flow didn’t only come from work and mental tasks, but socializing as well. Conversing with friends is actually a fairly complex mental task, requiring you to read signals and body language, think fast and respond to comments.
  8. Games - Games have been around long before Nintendo came around. The prevalence of games in most cultures is probably because playing games is a challenging mental task that produces a state of flow. Learning and playing a game can provide an engaging environment without the stress.
  9. Create Something - Creativity is often seen as having good ideas. But if you look at the root word of creativity, create, then creativity can be seen as simply building something new. Pick something small, but meaningful, to create. Spending an hour or two working building something can be incredibly rewarding and enjoyable.
  10. Appreciate - I’m sure I’m not alone in that I like listening to music to relax. Improving upon this would be trying to go deeper into the music you are listening or the art you are looking at. Try to appreciate how different elements work together and build on each other. This can be a more engaging experience than simply building off your first impression.
  11. Be in the Now – Focus on whatever you are experiencing in the moment. This sounds trivial at first, but it is actually incredibly difficult to sustain. Being in the now is what Eckhart Tolle believes to be the secret to happiness. Concentrating on your muscles, senses or the environment around you takes mental effort when buffeted by distracting thoughts.
  12. Work on Yourself - I’m sure few of us can claim that 100% of our time is used exactly how we would like it to be. Commitments with work, family and school can mean that a sizable portion of your time is working on goals that aren’t entirely your own. Spending your free time working on yourself, your habits, your goals and your projects can take more energy but can ultimately make your free time more rewarding.

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