Showing posts with label leisure. Show all posts
Showing posts with label leisure. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

We are too busy for our own good

Years ago, I took a sabbatical and we lived a few months in California and a few in the backblocks of New Zealand’s South Island. I’d just got used to how impatient shop assistants were if you couldn’t immediately spit out exactly what you wanted to buy, when we moved back Down Under and I was expected to wait politely while the person ahead of me in the queue passed the time of day with the lady behind the counter.

We’re not yet as bad as America, but there’s no doubt life in big cities such as Melbourne and Sydney is a lot faster and more furious than it used to be – and still is in quieter parts of the state.

We have to move faster in the big cities, of course, because we have so much to do, so much to fit in. Or so we imagine. We blow our horns at other motorists who slow us down as we hurry to our next commitment. (When did we become a nation of horn-blowers? Yuck.)

And that brings me to your summer break. Did you – or are you still – enjoy the chance to take it easy, get up late, stay in bed reading, potter about, read the paper, avoid doing much?

Or did you rush about, keeping busy, trying to fit in as much fun as possible, keep the kids entertained?

In other words, did you really get a break, or were you as busy as ever, just doing a different list of things?

When I was young, annual holidays were almost synonymous with being bored. There was never anything much to do apart from go for a walk. My big sisters sat on their beds reading – they had eiderdowns, I remember – so I hung around them doing the same. They fed me issues of a little children’s magazine called Sunny Corner, continuing the adventures of Milly-Molly-Mandy. (I’ve had a weakness for chick-lit ever since.)

I became a bookworm at an early age partly because everyone else at home was reading books but mainly because there was nothing else to do. And, in my very religious family, reading was allowed on Sunday between going to meetings. Even comics.

And that brings me to weekends. Do you see them as a chance to do a lot of pleasant things you can’t do during the week? Do you start with a list of great things to do, but end with a lot of the pleasures you’d hoped to achieve not crossed off?

Sometimes I think being so busy at the weekend is a form of greed. Of having eyes bigger than your stomach. I doubt it’s much of a recipe for the good life.

But have you noticed how, when you try to tell a friend how exceptionally busy you’ve been, they invariably counter that they’ve been busy, too? No one wants to admit to being unbusy.

Even the retired claim to be terribly busy. Everything’s relative, I guess.

In his latest book, Australia Reimagined, social guru Hugh Mackay reflects on the “culture of busyness”, about which he has many reservations. “No matter how we try to dress it up, disguising it as a virtue or a badge to be worn with pride, relentless busyness is a health hazard – yet another contributor to our epidemic of stress and anxiety,” he says.

“For too many of us, holidays have been compressed into ‘short breaks’, the pleasure of walking or running in the open air has been swapped for a quick burst at the gym, the therapeutic joy of aimlessness has been overwhelmed by the need for everything to have both a purpose and an outcome.”

A sane person would regard excessive or sustained busyness as a warning signal, he says. “No time to read? No time to walk? No time to play? No time to nurture a neglected relationship over a cup of coffee? Surely there’s something awry in a life like that.”

Sometimes we keep ourselves busy because we feel we need to be – and be seen to be – busy, especially at work. Many bosses keep themselves busy making the easy decisions so they can put off the really hard ones.

Sometimes we’re busy because we’re not as efficient as we should be. Sometimes we’re busy at work because it’s better than being at home with our not-so-loved ones. Sometimes we keep busy because it leaves us no time to think about the meaning of our lives.

Mackay says our addiction to busyness has three adverse consequences. First, we’re becoming a sleep-deprived society.

Second, we’re becoming afraid of stillness, solitude and inactivity.

Third, busyness can both distract us and insulate us from the needs of the people around us. Busyness “decompassions” us, he concludes.
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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Greenery has magic properties

I've just got to get through extended Christmas festivities - and subsequent mopping up - and I'll be off on my hols. What am I doing this year? Same as most years: heading for the bush. This time, we're going to the mountains.

As a denizen of the inner city, I've long had a great desire to get out into the country whenever possible. Get into the grass and trees, where the air is clean and the sleeping seems better.

There's a place we rent not far up the coast that backs on to a national park. I call it Lyrebird Lodge. And even when we go overseas, I often find the country towns beat the big cities.

In recent times, I've been singing the praises of big cities: how efficient they are and how they promote creativity and productivity, particularly in the era of the information economy.

But cities have their dark side and insufficient grass and trees is it. That's more than just a personal preference. Environmental psychologists and others have been gathering impressive evidence of the health-giving properties of greenery.

It's evidence to support the US biologist E. O. Wilson's "biophilia" hypothesis: because humans evolved in natural environments and have lived separate from nature only relatively recently in their evolutionary history, people possess an innate need to affiliate with other living things.

Research published last year found that people who live in urban areas with more green space tend to report greater well-being - less mental distress and higher life satisfaction - than city dwellers who do not have parks, gardens or other green space nearby.

Mathew White and colleagues at the University of Exeter Medical School used a national longitudinal survey of households in Britain to track the experience of more than 10,000 people for 17 years to 2008.

They found that, on average, the positive effect on well-being was equivalent to about one-third of the difference between being married rather than unmarried and a 10th of the effect of being employed rather than unemployed.

A different study followed the experience of more than 1000 people over five years, in which time some moved to greener urban areas and some to less green areas. The results showed that, on average, people who moved to greener areas felt an immediate improvement in their mental health. This boost could still be measured three years later.

"These findings are important for urban planners thinking about introducing new green spaces to towns and cities, suggesting they could provide long term and sustained benefits for local communities," the lead author of the study said.

A study from Canada began by summarising all the various benefits from contact with nature that other research had found: it can restore people's ability to pay attention, improve concentration in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and speed recovery from illness. It might even reduce the risk of dying.

Yet another study notes that the first hospitals in Europe were infirmaries in monastic communities where a garden was considered an essential part of the environment in that it supported the healing process.

This study of studies, from Norway, says: "In most cultures, both present and past, one can observe behaviour reflecting a fondness for nature. For example, tomb painting from ancient Egypt, as well as remains found in the ruins of Pompeii, substantiate that people brought plants into their houses and gardens more than 2000 years ago."

Many studies find health benefits from contact with nature. The Norwegian paper says a key element in this may be nature's stress-reducing effect. Stress plays a role in the causes and development of cardiovascular diseases, anxiety disorders and depression.

Contact with nature may help "simply by being consciously or unconsciously pleasing to the eye".

Office employees seem to compensate for lack of a window view by introducing indoor plants or even just pictures of nature. One study found that having a view to plants from the work station decreased the amount of self-reported sick leave.

One of my favourite blog sites, PsyBlog, conducted by the British psychologist Dr Jeremy Dean, notes research estimating that people now spend 25 per cent less time in nature than they did 20 years ago. Instead, recreational time is often spent surfing the internet, playing video games and watching movies.

But this is more up my line: Dean reports a study finding that taking group walks in nature is associated with better mental well-being and lower stress and depression.

The study evaluated a British program called Walking for Health, and involved nearly 2000 participants, divided into two matched groups of those who took part in the walks and those who did not.

The walks, which extended over three months, combined three elements, each of which you'd expect to make people feel better: walking, being in nature and being with other people.

Those who seemed to benefit most were those who had been through a recent stressful life event, such as divorce, bereavement or a serious illness.

"Our findings suggest that something as simple as joining an outdoor walking group may not only improve someone's daily positive emotions, but may also contribute a non-pharmacological approach to serious conditions like depression," one of the study's authors said.

You beaut. When I get to the mountains, I'm hoping to do a lot of bush walking.
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