Contentment

When I was a kid and a young man, Sundays were all about family time. There was no expectation that I should catch up on work or even shop. It was all about going to church, enjoying brunch and reading the New York Times. At night, I recall watching The Wonderful World of Disney or 60 Minutes, often with loved ones.

During my child rearing years, this all changed. I no longer observed “a day of rest.” Reading the Times became a luxury that was replaced with catching up on chores, shopping and, yes, doing work.

At 61, I’m returning to the practice of doing less. I’m seeing the benefit – no, the necessity – of taking one day a week to sleep in, read and just be.

Our jobs working in the Arts and Wellness are all about giving. We expend a huge amount of energy with children and adults, teaching, creating and generously providing THEM with attention and love. It stands to reason, then, that we provide US with what we need before our tank runs to empty.

It seems obvious, but we Americans are apt to hit “E” before we stop and refuel. We drink caffeine instead of rest even though we know it’s killing us or, at the very least, shortening our lifespan and increasing our anxiety. Some may take fifteen minutes to meditate, but most of us just keep going until we have our first cocktail or beer to counter the coffee we’ve consumed. Been there; bought the t-shirt.

How did we get here? How did we move from the sanctity of one day of rest to seven days of unrest? It’s a question worth asking ourselves if we want to live our best lives before we exit stage right.

For me, I think it started when I bought the idea that accomplishing goals was a 24/7 job. My mission switched from living life to making a living, from smelling the roses to being able to afford them. Caffeine, the breakfast of champions, became a huge part of my American life in my thirties.

But there’s more. Men have always been programmed to achieve, but it got ratcheted up during the 1990s, a period where wealth creation in the middle class started becoming increasingly important. I believe that we were duped into believing that the rat race required that we give up the luxury of Sunday with the family in exchange for a nest egg, a bigger house and an ever-increasing college tuition bill. Women, too, were taught that their ticket to paradise would only be punched if they, too, manifested wealth as part of a two career household.

I’m not telling you something you don’t already know. Many of us had some fun or felt like we were building the good life while simultaneously exchanging our health for wealth. We just thought we could use exercise vacations or therapy to balance it all out. And maybe we did in our thirties and forties. But that’s over for people like me. We want more. Or less. We want off the merry go round.

If the Adventure has taught me anything it’s this: we need to take back our own life and waiting until retirement is not necessary. The Pandemic taught a lot of us this lesson because we tasted a less frenetic life. We experienced the benefit of commuting less and spending more time at home with family.

Right now is the time to plan your post-stressful life if you, like me, sense that there may be something better than chasing the rabbit around the dog track. This may not mean full retirement. In fact you may switch to a different, more fulfilling life that’s every bit as busy. But I suggest this: take a day for you. As soon as possible, experiment with a return to a day of rest.

At first, it will feel slothful. Your inner critic will likely berate you for being lazy and unproductive. That’s normal. But one Sunday (or any day that works for you) I promise that you will rediscover something simple and magical – that you are not what you do. You are how you feel and it’s okay to let go and be unabashedly unproductive. In fact, it’s the way to produce something better – contentment.

One last point. We may have to grieve the loss of our career-driven, child-centered, over- caffeinated life. It may reach back for us like an old flame and cause us to feel wrong or shameful for disconnecting from our anti-rest society. In these moments, we need to remind ourselves that the high stress game no longer serves us. We’ve glimpsed something better.

Give it time. Soften. You’re worth it.

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