My wife is an introvert. It doesn’t mean she’s anti-social - she still has great friends! Being introverted just means you get your energy from being on your own. Introverts are drained by spending time with other people, especially large groups. Extroverts, on the other hand, are energized by other people.
Despite knowing that she’s an introvert, she often feels pressure to “go out and have fun” with other people. She has a hard time expressing it to others, but sometimes she just needs to stay in.
I think this is a problem. And truth be told, it doesn’t just apply to introverts. I feel the same pressure! I like to spend more time with others than she does, but I have days where I’d just rather lay in bed or hang around the house and do nothing in particular. For me, this bumps up against my own personal sense of “needing to be productive”. I feel like if I’m not doing something, I’m wasting time. Society praises people who “put themselves out there” and “make big sacrifices” to get stuff done. Whether giving up sleep, friendships, health, or downtime, you can still be highly regarded because you’re getting stuff done!
Society, it seems, is biasing our perspective on what constitutes a valuable way to spend one’s time. But is our productivity and constant “going out” actually making us happier?
When I did my values exercise, “calm” came up as one of my top five, AND it was one of the things missing from my life. I get so excited by new opportunities, activities, and people that I forget that I still need downtime. Personally, my sense of calm often comes from creating a little more buffer time in my schedule. When I have more room to just “do nothing”, I really notice a change in my mood and mental health.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what success means to me, and I realized that my perceptions – the idea that downtime is wasted time – are getting in the way of my own happiness! Furthermore, my wife’s perception that her need for downtime makes her “boring” means that she feels conflicted about those times when she is most calm and content. How annoying is that?!
Maybe downtime isn’t your problem personally? Think about your partner or friends and make sure you aren’t accidentally forcing them to negotiate their much-needed downtime to be social all the time. Your intentions might be sincere, but many introverts, just like my wife, have a hard time letting people know when they feel conflicted about high-energy activities.
It seems like as the speed of life increases, we could all use a little time to reflect on how we think about our downtime. Are we putting too much pressure on ourselves to be constantly productive? It’s not that “being busy” is necessarily bad… but maybe we’re undervaluing the very thing that gives us energy for the best bits of life? Or maybe moments of downtime – when we are fully present, calm, and content – could actually BE the best bits of life?