Nearly every day, I spend a few minutes doing an online jigsaw puzzle or two. Or play mahjong on my iPad. Or read click-bait “news” articles. It's how I kill the few spare minutes before the news comes on, before I need to start supper, or just procrastinating before doing something of greater import.
As I shuffle the puzzle pieces into place, I often wonder if I will come to regret these moments spent in such a mindless activity. “Ah, if I had only used that time to write something of possible value; researched a topic of importance; cleaned my refrigerator; called a friend; swept the garage.” Once spent, time is never returned to us.
When asked if I am happy, I usually respond that I don’t think much about whether I am happy or not. I take to heart John Stuart Mill’s famous observation "Ask yourself whether you are happy and you cease to be so." Rather, I have always asked if I have been productive. Did I accomplish something? Did I make the community or myself a little better because of my activity? Have I learned something that makes me a better person?
The question then becomes “what exactly is a productive activity?” I view these as productive activities:
- Meaningful work on a job
- Writing as a means of mental clarification
- Reading for increased knowledge and new perspectives
- Exercise and personal hygiene
- Housekeeping, gardening, cooking
So why do I, like most others, steer off the productive path by doing jigsaw puzzles or reading junk fiction or watching crappy movies? Do we all just need breaks allowing us to cool our jets? If so, why do I feel guilty about it?