Stress test

I started writing a column about stress, but I got all strung out because it wasn’t going well.

My word processor put my column into the wrong font, which irritated me. When I tried to change it, the computer froze up, and I lost what I’d written. That made me spin in circles, spewing curses. I stubbed my toe on my desk, then the phone rang and distracted me from my cursing. By the time I got off the phone, I’d forgotten what I was going to write (though I’m sure it was extremely funny), and I was left with nothing but a looming deadline and a sore toe.

Just another day in the home office, where I choose to work because it’s a low-stress environment.

A study from Great Britain alleges that people who work at home suffer less stress. Among people who work at least 20 hours a week from home, 43 percent reported feeling a great deal of work-related stress, compared to 65 percent who work full-time in regular offices.

The Durham University survey found that working at home improved the balance between work and family and led to less career burnout. Researchers also found no basis for employers’ fears that at-home workers would be less committed to their jobs and would spend all their working hours gazing at Internet porn. (OK, I made up that last part.)

Of course, that’s a British study and we all know how wonky the Brits can be, with their “cricket” and their “tea.” What about red-blooded Americans who choose to work at home? They’re all stressed out like me, right?

Not according to an extensive review reported recently in the Journal of Applied Psychology. Two Penn State researchers found that at-home workers experienced less stress, more control over the work environment, better work-family balance, higher productivity and increased job satisfaction.

So I’m the only one who’s stressed out when things don’t go well in the home office? Perhaps I should take a break. Perhaps I’ll go flop in front of the television and watch some ESPN until I’ve calmed down.

Not so fast, says yet another new study. Happiness is not found on TV, but in “engaging” leisure activities such as visiting friends, reading a book, listening to music, fishing, exercising or going to a party, according to a survey of 4,000 Americans.

The survey found that, despite huge improvements in the standard of living over the past four decades, people are no happier now than they were in earlier generations. The researchers say modern Americans should have much more time for happiness-producing leisure activities, but instead we waste those hours on “neutral downtime,” mostly viewing TV. The study found that women now spend 15 percent of their waking hours watching TV, while men devote 17 percent. (Though there’s still nothing good on.)

“I wonder,” one researcher told The Wall Street Journal, “if people would feel better about their lives if they spent their leisure time doing something that was more interactive and more engaging.”

Aha. These studies have shown me a way to avoid stress and be happy. I’ll balance my work frustrations with more “engaging” leisure time.

I plan to invite a bunch of friends over for a home office party. We’ll sit around in our fishing togs, visiting and listening to music while exercising together. If we get the urge to watch ESPN, we’ll read books instead.

Maybe, while they’re here, I can get one of my friends to write the next column. That would do wonders for my stress level.

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