In the past few years, anxiety has become a main reason for going to therapy and the number of patients that consult because of it has risen steadily. Anxiety can have a lot of different sources, but a common issue that people with anxiety bring up in the first few sessions is that they worry that they are not being productive enough. When asked what that means or how they define “being productive”, the answer usually is related to reaching goals, having great achievements and doing something important in the world.
Then comes my next question ”productive according to whom?” This is usually followed by a confused look and statement about how being productive is an obvious vital element of life. How hard work and commiting to high goals is what we have to do to have a life that is worthwhile living. How 22, 27, 32, 40 is a time when productive things should be done.
Beneath these statements, there is a belief that is deeply stemmed in most cultures and that belief is that we are only valuable if we do outstanding things. That our existence must be justified. That we will be judged by how much we do on this Earth and the quality of the things we do. And all of this implies sacrifice and hard work.
It is always surprising how few people ask themselves if they are happy versus if they are being productive. I happen to think that happiness and productivity go hand in hand. If you like what you do, you are productive. Your happiness can be a great gift to the world. Nothing seems like hard work or sacrifice when you are happy. You can do more when you are happy. Anxiety about being productive actually stalls productivity.
Do you ask yourself regularly if you are happy? What does “being productive” mean to you? Could it mean something different? How much of your anxiety is about doing what you think you are supposed to be doing, instead of focusing on what makes you happy?