My wife, Clare, and I are both in our sixties. Our kids have grown up and out of the house, so we thought our lives would slow down now. Yet we seem to be busier than ever.
We’re talking about wanting to do less, but the fact that we can’t decide what to cut back on — fewer Zoom calls, fewer projects, or fewer Instagram posts — suggests we’re happy just the way we are.
And that seems to be true for many busy people. While we complain that we don’t have enough hours in the day to get things done (busy people like to brag about how busy they are), a recent study concluded that more free time doesn’t necessarily make people happier, even though they have a lot of free time. have time. can make us positively unhappy.
The findings, from the University of Pennsylvania, were based on a questionnaire completed by more than 21,000 Americans; they were asked to give a detailed account of what they did during the day and to score their sense of well-being — how good they felt about their lives.
While we complain that we don’t have enough hours in the day to get things done (busy people like to brag about how busy they are), a recent study concluded that more free time doesn’t necessarily make people happier.
The researchers found that people who had very little free time were the least happy and that as the free time increased, so did the sense of well-being.
But this leveled off when people had about two hours of free time (time they could spend as they pleased, without work or household chores) a day, and started to decline when they had more than five hours.
Why? It goes without saying that being busy gives us purpose. It also helps to keep our brains in good shape.
Evidence of this comes from a number of studies, including one conducted a few years ago by the University of Texas. They asked middle-aged and older volunteers to take brain tests and complete a “busy” questionnaire.
This included questions like: How often do you have to do too many things each day to get them all done? How often do you have so many things to do that you go to bed later than your normal bedtime?
They found, unsurprisingly, that people are less busy as they get older, and that women of all ages seem busier than men.
They also found that busy people of all ages in the study had better working memories (the ability to keep more than one thing in mind at the same time); better episodic memories (the ability to recall past events); and greater processing speed, i.e. their brains seemed to work faster.
Researchers found that people who had very little free time were the least happy and that as free time increased, so did the sense of well-being. But this leveled off when people had about two hours of free time
The researchers attribute this to people with busy lifestyles being out in the world, getting new experiences and meeting new people — all of this is mentally tougher than being at home deciding which show to watch on Netflix.
They also suggest that because busy people often have to learn new things, this leads to the growth of new brain cells, particularly in the hippocampus, the area of the brain linked to memory.
Studies have shown that spending your free time struggling with a new language or a mentally challenging physical activity like dancing is really good for the middle-aged brain.
The downside of being busy is that it can be stressful, especially if you have to work long hours or have no control over what you do in your spare time. It also means you may not have time to meet friends and family.
And that’s bad, because maintaining close relationships is extremely important for our physical and mental well-being.
We know this from research such as the Harvard Longitudinal Study, one of the longest human studies ever conducted. In the 1930s, researchers recruited 724 Harvard University students (all males), as well as young men from the Boston area, for a lifetime of study.
Some of those men, like John F. Kennedy, became rich and famous, while others lived normal lives. The main finding of the study was that the men who had close friends and partners were much more likely to remain happy and healthy into old age than those who did not.
And the effect on your health of having good friends is significant. A study that followed more than 300,000 middle-aged people for an average of seven and a half years found that those with the strongest social ties at the end of the study were 50 percent more likely to survive than those with fewer friends. .
The impact of having good friends is comparable to quitting smoking and is much greater than, say, losing weight or becoming more active (although both are of course good to do anyway).
I’m not as good as I’d like to be at keeping up with old friends (though I’m determined to do better), but one thing I’ve been able to prioritize is our local book club, which has been coming together for many years, and we are all good friends now.
If you’re already very busy, you don’t want my advice on things you can productively add to your life to make yourself even busier.
But if you have more time than you’d like, I recommend getting in touch with old friends, inviting others to walk with you, pick up a new hobby, or volunteer.
As the American philosopher Henry Thoreau once said, “It’s not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: what are we doing?’
Sitting for long periods of time has sometimes been described as the new smoking – not only is it very bad for the heart, it also increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and has even been linked to some cancers.
Most of us spend way too much time sitting, using computers, playing games or watching TV.
One of the best ways to counteract the effects of prolonged sitting is to get up and move every 30 minutes.
And now we know how long to do this: A study in Sweden found that two to three minutes of activity for every 30 minutes of sitting seems to be what it takes to protect your metabolic health, ideally walking around — even better, climbing stairs. or squat.
To make sure you actually do it, download an app or set your phone to remind you to exercise twice an hour.
Why I can’t wait to get a booster shot
When the time comes, I’ll be eagerly lining up to get my booster Covid shot, and hopefully a flu shot at the same time.
I’m a big fan of vaccines – the fact is they work and a recent study by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed what a brilliant job the Covid vaccines in particular are doing.
Of the 51,281 Covid deaths in the first half of this year, only 458 (that’s about 0.9 percent) were in people who had been double stung.
But despite the overwhelming evidence that Covid vaccines are safe and effective, there are still millions of adults in the UK who have so far chosen not to have one. They endanger not only themselves, but the rest of us.
One of the hesitant vaccines is a friend of mine. A few days ago she told me she hadn’t had the shot yet and isn’t sure if she wants to. She is in her forties and does not think she is in danger.
As I mentioned, she may not get seriously ill, but if she does get infected, there’s a good chance she’ll get Covid for a long time.
While Covid mainly kills older men, the people aged 35 to 69 are the people most likely to get Covid for a long time.
According to the ONS, about one in four in this group will have at least one ongoing symptom five weeks after infection, and the symptoms can be really unpleasant, ranging from loss of taste and smell to mental fogginess, being completely drained of energy, and, as another friend put it, ‘feeling like someone is sitting on your chest’.
The best way to save yourself from long Covid is to get vaccinated.
A study from King’s College London showed that double vaccination not only cuts the risk of getting sick if you get infected, but if you do get symptoms, it halves the chance that they will persist.
I told my friend the facts. I really hope she changes her mind.