Why "you time" is better than "me time" | Third Space

Why "you time" is better than "me time"

Kindness is just one of the virtues that are good for our wellbeing.
Tue 2 Mar 2021

“Me time” is overrated

If you were to do something for your own wellbeing - what would you picture for yourself? For me, this is easy. Eating gelato, getting a haircut, walking a nature trail. Not all together, of course.

Recently I was listening to the CEO of a mental health care organisation [1]. She says that their research has shown that what has a more lasting effect on our wellbeing/resilience (or mental fitness as she calls it [2]) is being kind to someone. “You time” is better than “me time”. On this logic, I’d need to rework my picture: take my nieces out for gelato, actively listen to my hairdresser’s stories, spend that nature walk with a friend who is having a difficult time.

While the benefits of “you time” might be a new concept to me, it’s not new in history. Confucius, Socrates and Jesus all understood that the good life – the life that is good for us, giving us purpose and vitality - is the life that is also good for others. The pathway for this good life is through “virtue” – those small daily choices that become habits and build character [3]. Interestingly, Psychologist Martin Seligman in 2004 researched the habits and character traits that are good for our wellbeing and ended up in the same place as Confucius, Socrates and Jesus.

If it is all about virtue then our mental fitness is almost completely unrelated to the circumstances in our lives. I could exercise kindness as I eat ramen, get my legs waxed or lie on a beach. I find this helpful because in my head it’s easy to say: ‘if only my circumstances were different…if only I was in that perfect relationship or lived in a certain place or had all the things I felt I needed in life…that would be good for my wellbeing’.

Building virtue

What small activities can we build into our daily routines to help build virtue (or character) and contribute to our wellbeing and resilience? To quote the CEO:

“Building mental fitness means cultivating a mindset characterised by hope. A mindset that is positive, that uses setbacks as learning opportunities and it means taking time out to be mindful (paying attention to what’s happening around us). Habits like meditation or remembering to be thankful will build and maintain these mindsets.

Building mental fitness means looking after our body because our minds and our bodies are deeply interconnected. Exercise, eating good foods, getting enough sleep and cutting right back on use of alcohol and drugs will build and maintain our mental fitness.

Building mental fitness means paying attention to your spiritual health. Some psychologists are now literally prescribing “Nature”. Being connected to the natural world – getting out into nature, and then having a fundamental, lasting and strong purpose in life. These are habits that feed our spirits that will build and maintain mental fitness.

Building mental fitness means being connected in community. Having at least 4 people (that’s what the research says) that you know well enough, and trust enough, to confide in. Meeting regularly with a group of true, deep friends. And finally giving to others: giving time, giving money, being kind without expecting a return. This will build and maintain your mental fitness.”

COVID is tricky

COVID challenged the habits we had in place to protect our wellbeing. Pre-COVID, when I used to work in the office, I was very thankful for the distance between my desk and the fridge. And those “water cooler” conversations with colleagues – I didn’t realise at the time how much they were a source of inspiration and connection for me.

Now in my hybrid home/office working environment, I will need to put time and effort into forming some new habits. One habit will be around some discipline with snacking. And when I am in the office, making time for those “water cooler” conversations rather than seeing them as an impediment to my productivity.

Why “you time” is better

Confucius, Socrates and Jesus all understood that the good life – the life that is good for us, giving us purpose and vitality - is the life that is also good for others. On that basis, we could argue that being a good person – a virtuous person – gives us a purpose statement for life.

But what if something more was on offer?

A work colleague the other day observed the whole “You do you” movement is so inconsistent. On the one hand we say: “Do what’s right for you, whatever that may be” and on the other we judge people’s choices. It’s this act of judgement that’s interesting – because it’s only consistent if deep down we believe there is some ultimate story with which to judge everyone’s small stories. For example, most reasonable people think to leave a job for a better one – that’s a good idea. But to leave a family to have an affair – that’s a bad idea. Or more broadly speaking: why do we say love, mercy and forgiveness trumps selfishness, self-absorption and hate? Where does this ultimate story come from?

As a follower of Jesus I would say the ultimate story is one of a generous, other-person centred God. Jesus says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son [Jesus], that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” [John 3:16]. God sacrificed what was most precious to him (Jesus) in order to put the offer of eternal life on the table (for those who believe).

If this ultimate story is true, then our life can have a purpose that is outside of us, that is bigger than we are, that we can anchor our life to. It can give us a strong and lasting purpose that can sustain us through job changes, relationship challenges, health crises and every uncertainty of life.

Having a strong and lasting purpose helps with mental fitness (#3 Spirit). But the ultimate story I believe in helps in other ways. For example, it gives me hope. I know that God is ‘for me’ whatever my circumstances. It gives me someone to thank. It gives me a motivation to be kind without the expectation of return. These things build my character.

For me, when it comes to purpose, being a good person is only part of the picture. I have much more. My strong and lasting purpose in life is to enjoy an eternal relationship with the God who loves me.

So why is “you time” better than “me time”? I would say it’s because of the way we are wired. If the ultimate story is one of a generous, other-person centred God then it’s not so surprising that being kind to others is good for our wellbeing.

Now for some “you time”

I’ve just booked in to get a haircut. Time to exercise that kindness virtue.

[1] Jenny George is CEO of Converge International (A Mental Health Care organisation). She was speaking at the City Bible Form Life At Work Conference, February 20 2021.

[2] Jenny clarified the difference between “mental fitness” and “mental health”. The latter is like trying to train for a marathon with a broken leg – a different solution is first required.

[3] ‘Virtues” are internal, developed over time and are enduring. “Values” are what we collectively sign up to, are more behavioural and usually chosen in the moment. There is overlap. Another word for “virtues” is character.