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The Overstuffed Life

I’ve been listening to a presentation from a psychology conference by Dr. Peter Fraenkel on “Living the Overstuffed Life” in which he discusses the negative effects associated with our busy work lives. I felt a little guilty as I listened to his lecture on my iPod while jogging since I was trying to stuff two activities into one. An interesting topic that he addressed was how our busy work lives have a negative effect on our relationships. Some of the following thoughts are inspired by his presentation.


Our lives are busier than ever. I think that our American culture is partly to blame for the added hours to our work schedules. There seems to be a competitive masochism such that people try to outdo each other with the amount of hours of work that are put in. “Oh, you worked about 50 hours last week? I must have put in about 65 hours! I’ve been at the office until 9 every night this week!”

Another source of blame for our longer work hours is technology. Technology is supposed to make our lives easier and help us to get “connected,” but it often seems to have the opposite effects. Instead of saving time with technology, now we have no excuse to stop working because work is always at our fingertips via our laptops, Blackberries, cell phones, etc. Connecting to people with technology also can create a wedge in important relationships in our lives. How many times have you seen people talking and then one gets a cell phone call and breaks off the conversation with the person in front of them to talk to the person on the cell? How many people are on email in the evening instead of spending time with family members?

We all have this challenge before us…how to put our time and energy into things that truly give us joy. Research indicates that most of our happiness in life (I’ve read about 70%) comes from having positive relationships with others. This makes sense. When were the best times of your life? Chances are that those times were with friends and family. On the other side of things, long work hours keep us disconnected from important relationships, lower our immune system, contribute to heart disease, asthma, and stress. New research indicates that stress actually kills neurons and interferes with the growth of new ones.


What can we do? I have a few suggestions on this front. Well, the first step is an awareness of this problem. Second, is to contemplate the benefits of reducing our work loads, disconnecting from technology, and spending quality time with important people in our lives. Third, is to try to take some steps…even if very small ones…that take us in the direction that we want to go. Fourth, after you’ve tried some of these steps, take inventory. How do you feel? Do you notice the difference? Now, stop reading this and give it a try!

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