Most of us would agree that there is at least one thing we do every day that we don’t particularly look forward to. It may be getting up early, it may be wearing pants, it may be following a diet for medically necessary reasons, or it may be working at a job we merely tolerate. These things that we do in order to maintain a certain standard of living are often celebrated by others in weird ways, and can even be competitive in nature.

We’ve all heard it. One coworker talks about waking at five a.m., getting to work early, and how productive they’ve been. Then, another coworker comes along and informs everyone they’ve woken up at 4:30 a.m. and completed a workout routine, made a sit down breakfast of only organic bananas and freshly harvested oatmeal, and sent out thank you cards to everyone who smiled at them yesterday. The first coworker, by comparison, now feels that they’ve slept in. Neither of them seems to be fond of all of their achievements – in fact, the less they enjoy doing these things, the more accomplished they seem.

The glorification of being busy with endless begrudging tasks in order to “keep on keepin’ on” is pervasive and annoying. But, there may be some good that comes from our ability to routinely do the things we don’t necessarily want to do. The trick here is to figure out when this is beneficial and when it becomes detrimental to one’s own well-being. So how do you know the difference?

When you’re deciding what to be busy with, you might consider your long-term goals rather than your short-term goals. For example, my short-term goals include things like making a dinner that three different kids will all eat, figuring out where I left my coffee, and having a productive day at work. My long-term goals include being physically healthy, raising healthy and happy children who are not buttheads, and enjoying my relationship with my significant other.

Many nights, for dinner, I make different things for three different people, because kids are picky eaters and I have one who is a vegetarian. I include major food groups and limit junk. I also don’t have time to cook all night, so dinner is made when I am able to make it, and that’s that. To make three separate meals that are healthy and appealing to children requires more time and planning than many would be willing to invest. I don’t take pleasure in doing this, so why do I do it? Is it just because my kids appreciate it?

No. If that were the case, I’d let them have junk every night for dinner. When I think about my long-term goal of raising healthy and happy children who are not buttheads, I realize I cannot get there if they aren’t eating a nutritious meal most nights. I have to balance this against “spoiling” them with the thought that life is this way: a short order cook always presenting you with your heart’s desire. It is my hope that the limitations on junk and my specifications of when my chef services are available will offset that feeling. This routine seems to be working so far, and when I look toward my long-term goals and think about the people who are most important to me, it makes the dinnertime chaos much less belabored.

All of this “stuff” we do every day can be looked at in these two ways. The busy work to make the short-term better is the stuff we loathe. This is the stuff being done to please someone who isn’t going to matter five years from now. This is the stuff we do in order to impress people who don’t care about us, in order to get things we don’t need.

When we do stuff with the long-term goals in mind, what we’re really saying is that the people and things that are most important to us are more worthy of our time and energy than making the next week easier. It’s the realization that establishing healthy food habits for my kids is more important than appeasing them with a soda. It’s showing someone you love them by attending an event you’d never buy tickets for, because you love that person more than you hate that team. We’re all busy, but life is better when we’re busy in the right direction.

Anna Layer lives in Hartford with her three children. She can be reached at