Why “Getting Through” Life Is Keeping Us Unhappy & Unhealthy


“The spirit of the times is one of joyless urgency,” writes the essayist Marilynne Robinson, who observes that many of us spend our lives “preparing ourselves and our children to be means to inscrutable ends that are utterly not our own.”

⏤ Oliver Burkeman, from his new book Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management For Mortals


I read this earlier today and it hit me hard. I think we can all agree joyless urgency is a familiar feeling.

Ironically enough, I was chatting about this with a friend a few days ago. We’re both achievement-oriented and it’s as though our to-do list is a never-ending pile.

It’s like a hydra, mocking us when we cross off one item, only to be replaced by two more.

“Work on project; do dishes; buy Crypto; find more suitable analogies…”

And what’s worse, as Burkeman points out in his book,

“This is the maddening truth about time, which most advice on managing it seems to miss. It’s like an obstreperous toddler: the more you struggle to control it, to make it conform to your agenda, the further it slips from your control.”

Another pithy quote I’ve heard on this is, “What you resist, persists.”

And I think herein lies the problem⏤with our fitness goals, career goals, relationship goals, and whatever other dreams we hope to wrangle “one day.”

I’m speaking for myself, but it seems like we’re too caught up in “getting through” our days. We forget these are the same days we were looking forward to, or so it seemed, not too long ago.

Put simply: we’re in our head too much, and in our “life” too little.

  • We’re missing a wonderful dinner because we’re either A) obsessing over calories, B) feeling guilty for not being “disciplined” enough to make the healthy choice (again), or C) we’re ruminating over what we need to do at some point in the future, or what we should’ve done in the past.

  • We’re caught up in trying to impress our boss or friends with our achievements, yet they don’t even care because they’re only thinking about themselves anyway. (Just like us.) Oh, and our partner is mad because we didn’t listen to them at dinner last night.

  • Or maybe it’s something simple and mundane⏤we don’t realize what a beautiful day it is because our heads are buried in our phones. Or, that the old man we just passed was offering a friendly smile, but we rejected him because we’re reading a Twitter thread that we disagree with.

And, for what? And at what cost?

Potentially, a lot.

We are missing “life” as we work so tirelessly towards our hopes of one day enjoying “life.”

Now, look, I’m not saying to disregard responsibilities. Or that deep thought isn’t helpful. OR that it’s even possible to be perfect at this stuff.

But what I AM saying is that we can try to…

→ be more intentional.

→ be more present.

→ work when it’s time to work, and relax when it’s time to relax.

→ enjoy a meal or workout without phone distractions.

→ worry less about things that (probably) don’t matter much.

→ take our attention seriously.

We can care about our health and fitness⏤strive to reach goals, work hard to improve, and, yes, even track our food and weight⏤WITHOUT being defined by it or getting emotional over the smallest setback.

We should strive to improve our careers and wealth, but not at the cost of what’s most important to us⏤presence with family, pursuing hobbies, or, hell, just getting to bed at a decent time.

We need to spend more time experiencing and less time waiting to experience.

Because if we don’t, we’re risking what’s most valuable: time.

And there are no do-overs, my friend. This is it.

Oh, and I wish I had a solution for you, but I don’t. Sorry.

All I can do is tell you how I’m working on it. Maybe it’ll help you, too.

My (Hopeful) Game Plan

  • I’m gonna continue reading Burkeman’s book.
  • I’m monitoring my screen time more closely, aiming to drive down my weekly average.
  • I’m going to re-take the Future Authoring Program to identify what’s worth doing (for me).
  • I’m meditating most mornings using Sam Harris’s Waking Up app (here’s a free 7-day trial).
  • I’m using my kitchen timer again for deep work sessions.
  • I’m putting my gym playlist on shuffle while working out (in an attempt to not look at my phone as much).
  • I’m allowing more silence (as opposed to filling dead air with a podcast, music, etc.)
  • I’m mentally resetting multiple times a day and practicing compassion over mental flogging.
  • “Deal with problems in daylight.” – Minimal thinking after dinner. (H/t to Austin Kleon)

I’m sure there’s more, but that’s off the top of my head.

Hope this made you think differently about what you do next.


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