Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Conscious Decompress

Brigid Schulte's new book, Overwhelmed, studies our culture of busy. The book also happens to be a thorough investigation of a kind of culture I know firsthand.

One that involves shuttling kids from soccer games to scout meetings. Squeezing grocery shopping in post-run Sunday, before religious obligations, making sure you have time to grab something to eat before half of the family is due to volunteer to help stock the homeless shelter pantry from 2-4.

Track practice starts at 3:45, but it's okay if the kids miss the first fifteen minutes because the homeless shelter is such a good cause and dropping the kids at track means you have twenty minutes to prep dinner, do a load of laundry run back and get them before you all sit down to the family dinner that research shows plays a crucial role in determining the future success of your offspring. 

In the subtext of the previous paragraph, something is hidden that I've suspected for a while.

Busy is a status symbol.

Ms. Schulte's book, Overwhelmed, points out that at some point, busyness became a symbol of high social status, a testament to our personal importance and something viewed as downright glamorous.

It's nice to hear someone come out and say it.

It also makes me wonder, given the research showing we're at our least effective when we feel pressed for time, that this sensation actually shrinks our prefrontal cortex, if it's not a status symbol that's headed the way of the suntan.

Remember the eighties? When golden brown skin, the darker, the better symbolized the financial ability to fund trips to sunny climes and the free time to enjoy them? That was before melanoma became epidemic and men and women alike realized the real key to youth wasn't so much La Mer as it was avoiding le soleil.

Maybe being ridiculously busy is destined to be the golden suntan of the first part of this century.

All I know is lately our weekends have a lot more free time. I'm consciously choosing not to sign my kids up for so many activities. The dinner parties I used to throw on a regular basis have dwindled in both size and frequency. And family dinner, it's easy to prepare and enjoy when I have all afternoon.

Sometimes we're a little bored, but then we discover long forgotten board games, books and crafty projects gifted to us and shoved in a closet. When given the opportunity, it's amazing how good we are at occupying our time or, you know, sometimes just napping.

Maybe the next status symbol to trend will be that of the Conscious Decompress. Look for a rise in Google status's set to 'Dawdling'.

We'll be the well-rested, unbusy few who inspire the anti-time management movement and a whole new series of non-fiction books that giving precise instructions on how to properly achieve our glamorous empty- calendar lifestyle.

Who's in?