By Victor S. Sierpina
It seems to be a mark of status in our society to be forever busy. Ask someone how they are and a likely response is, “Busy.”
Now there is nothing wrong with attending to business, family and other responsibilities. However, it seems to me that the slavish value we give to always being busy often goes too far.
What about down time? What about taking time when we just stop our endless busyness to rest, reflect, recuperate, and recharge? Isn’t this just as great a value to our health and happiness as constant motion?
My favorite Chinese philosopher, Lao Tsu had much wisdom to offer us on this topic. More than 2,500 years ago, Lao Tsu said “Always be busy, and life is beyond hope.” And on the benefit of quietude: “Who can wait quietly while the mud settles? Who can remain still until the moment of action?” Here’s another: “A truly good man does nothing, yet leaves nothing undone. A foolish man is always doing, yet much remains to be done.”
His classic book, the Tao Te Ching (quotes from translation by Feng and English, Vintage books, 1972), is filled with many similar notions. Inaction is not inactivity and sometimes the best course to allow things to develop naturally. Too much success is not an advantage, nor is constantly meddling with the world out of discontent.
In fact, being content and accepting things how they are, as contrary as that may seem to our work ethos and progressive tendencies, is often the most direct path to personal satisfaction and immediate joy. It can also bring balance and a healthy perspective to our daily duties and even keep us from annoying others.
After a couple of weeks in which it seemed we had 25 hours of work to do in a day, my wife and I decided for a weekend of down time. Though we had several social events, fests, galas, and gatherings on our calendar, we thought the better of it and just hung out together at home. We did simple domestic things like cooking, gardening, catching up on some reading, taking extra long naps, and enjoying the fabulous weather.
We tinkered on some minor projects and enjoyed time with family. Glorious! Research supports such stress-less times as ways to improve our mood, memory, immunity and resilience.
Even a few minutes a day of quiet meditation or prayer can help prepare us for the wisest course of actions in the day ahead.
So maybe the next time someone asks you how you are, instead of answering, “Busy!” you might think better of it and say something like, “Peaceful” or “Content” or even “Relaxed.”
They will likely look at you sideways and shake their heads. But just maybe, you have taught yourself and them a valuable lesson in life. The harmony of life is like music, the rest notes help make the melody.
Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.