What did you do today?

If you were to sneak a peek into most American homes during dinnertime, you might find a family or couple or roommates sharing a meal and asking each other the following question: What did you do today?

It’s a seemingly innocuous question. If nothing else, it’s used as a conversation starter, one in which that at least implies interest in the fellow human to which the question is posed. But is it really that innocent? Even if the intention by the questioner was never to impose any sort of judgment on the questioned party, I maintain that it’s a question rife with implications.

And yet this question is asked more often  than any of the following questions that could potentially elicit the same information, but much more deeply. How about: “How was your day today?”; or, “How did you feel today?” (to a well, not ill person); or,”What was the best part of your day and why?”; or my favorite for the kids: “What were the highlights of your day so far?”. By asking these questions, one would still be able to get a sense of the other’s day’s events, but they will also be able to tap into something far more important than actions and events: the person’s emotions.

Now I’m not trying to say that asking “What did you do today?” only allows for the other person to rattle of a list of actions without commentary. But I’ve found in my life that one of a few things happen. One is that the person being asked doesn’t really have much to answer or contribute. Perhaps it was a largely uneventful day. Another is that the person answering really just want to talk about one thing that was important, but feels obligated to include everything in the day. Or lastly, the person questioned may feel judged if they “didn’t do much”. As if some sort of activities marathon needs to happen every day in order to see the day as successful.

Ultimately, the first question (“What did you do today?”) is focusing on actions and events, not feelings, questions, observations, or learning points. It also implies that a day’s worth is based on what a person actively does.

For example, if Josh were to ask me, “What did you do today?”, my answer would possibly be: “Read, watched the birds, wrote a little, went on Facebook, napped.” And this is when I am done getting kids ready for and off to school and before I pick them up from school and work on homework and dinner. This is my “free-time”, if you will.

If this was my answer, it would seem as though I’m lazy as hell and do basically nothing all day (Gee, must be nice to be unemployed!). And while this is not necessarily true, it might seems so to those who think of “doing something” as being busy all day long. (Then again, what really is busy? …But I digress.)

Hear me out.

What if by watching the birds I saw a new species or learned a new behavior that prompted further research into migratory patterns or ornithology? Or what if I saw an animal in distress and helped it? Was that doing nothing?

What if by reading I gained further insight into what makes a good story and used a technique in my own writing? What if I read a book I’ll never forget, one which connects humans on a deep emotional level, or one which I would want to share with my children? Was that doing nothing?

What if by napping I was able to re-energize myself after a hectic morning of getting kids off to school, thus allowing me to be better rested during the afternoon and evening when my kids need a lot of attention and interaction. Was that doing nothing?

What if by going on Facebook I not only got social interaction with other adults (considering I’m unemployed and either alone all day or with small children), but I also was able to read up on current events and news of importance to me? Was that doing nothing?

What if by writing I learned more about myself and worked toward building a happier life that better fulfills my needs and more closely matches what I value? Was that doing nothing?

But lastly, what if I really did do nothing? So what? Does this make my day–or me for that matter–a waste? What if all I did was rest, and be entertained and happy? Is that really doing nothing? Why is the measure of a day based on the societal norms that may not best represent individual beliefs, goals, or practices? Why can’t my day just be filled with whatever the hell I damn well please?

I have no answers to these questions. I still struggle every day with this dilemma. Having been a student and then teacher for so long, I still maintain this ingrained mindset that I shouldn’t waste a single minute of my day being idle. Not having worked this last month has been challenging in this regard. It honestly often interferes with my ability to truly enjoy every day because I’m either judging myself for having not done enough, pressuring myself to do more, or worrying that Josh will think I’m taking advantage of not working.

I know this is truly my problem, and that it’s largely self-imposed,but I also know I’m not alone in this. I’m fairly confident in my claim that it’s a common mindset in America, and that it’s not easily broken or overcome.

But so long as I can only control my own life, I know I can only focus on re-wiring my thinking. And this is something I am working toward accomplishing one gloriously uneventful day at a time.

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One thought on “What did you do today?

  1. This always feeling the need to be busy in order to validate ourselves &, in some cases, our existence, is primarily an American phenomenon. One doesn’t find this rationale in European countries. There, they encourage “downtime”…going on “Holiday”, taking time for mid afternoon tea, etc. The Italians, in particular, even have fluidity in time management. In the U.S., if you have a 10am meeting, you’re expected to be there by 9:45 or 9:50 am. In Italy, the same 10am meeting could actually be at 10:10 or 10:35…basically anytime before 11am! I totally get where you’re coming from…another great thought-provoking journal entry…keep ’em coming!

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