Often I schedule my life with busyness as a means of distraction. I commit myself to others through things like play practice or group membership in order to keep myself from becoming too introspective and melancholy. In this season of uncertainty as I await word from grad schools, I determined to keep myself busy. It seemed foolish to do nothing while I wait, so I got a part time job, joined a community theater production, and added a handful of other obligations to my plate. There are a couple problems that arose from this strategy. One is that I’m now committed to stay in this area through June, which puts a delay on going to plan B if grad school falls through. The second problem is that I’m inching toward becoming too busy.
Our society in general has a difficult time with leisure, I think. We take way fewer vacation days than Europeans, for example. It’s probably one of many holdovers from our Puritan forebears. It’s funny; everybody always knocks the Puritans without realizing how much their influence is still seen in our society (in both good and bad ways). They gave us what sociologists have termed “Protestant work ethic.” Despite varying religious views, cultural Americans have similar ideals about the value of hard work. We place importance on punctuality, on not “wasting time,” on not missing work, on not “slacking off” at work. We willingly work overtime, we often go to work when we’re sick, and it’s becoming more common for us to work on holidays.
All of this busyness negatively impacts our lives in multiple ways. First, it takes time away from our relationships. Combined with the advent of social media, we spend fewer and fewer hours each week socializing in person. Second, the added stress is bad for our health. Third, the absence of quiet (both literal and figurative) harms our souls. The workaholism that results from our capitalistic and materialistic society is killing us. Humans need rest to function properly. In fact, humans can live longer without food than they can without sleep. When God rested on the seventh day, it wasn’t because He was tired, it was to model resting for us. Like many of His commandments, the charge to observe a weekly rest of Sabbath is more about helping and protecting us than anything else.
Our society would greatly benefit if we adopted a dolce far niente attitude. Of course, you can’t literally do nothing. But it is so sweet to set aside a day where you have nothing planned. No work, no meetings, no commitments. You can just read, take a nap, putter around in the kitchen making something you enjoy, go for a walk, etc. Even if you have to start out small by carving out an hour of the day, try it and see how much you gain from pleasant inactivity.