Countering the culture of ‘busyness’

time confetti, Brigid Schulte, Verily Magazine

Since writing my last post about the redemptive power of ‘slow living’, I’ve come across two really interesting interviews that are well worth reading, if you have the time.

Interviewed by Darling Magazine, Arianna Huffington talks about a collapse she experienced, prompted by overwork and exhaustion, and how it made her reassess what she was living for. It was this that brought about a dramatic shift in her priorities:

We founded The Huffington Post in 2005, and two years in we were growing at an incredible pace. I was on the cover of magazines and had been chosen by Time as one of the world’s 100 Most Influential People. But after my fall, I had to ask myself, Was this what success looked like? Was this the life I wanted? I was working eighteen hours a day, seven days a week, trying to build a business, expand our coverage, and bring in investors. But my life, I realized, was out of control. In terms of the traditional measures of success, which focus on money and power, I was very successful. But I was not living a successful life by any sane definition of success. I knew something had to radically change. I could not go on that way. The title of the book reflects my belief that our goal, as individuals and as a society, should be not just to succeed but to thrive.’

She goes on to say:

‘If we don’t redefine what success is, the price we pay in terms of our health and well-being will continue to rise, as I found out in my own life. And when we include our own well-being in our definition of success, another thing that changes is our relationship with time. When we’re living a life of what Harvard professor Leslie Perlow calls “time famine,” we rob ourselves of our ability to experience… wonder, our sense of delight in the mysteries of the universe, as well as the everyday occurrences and small miracles that fill our lives.’

[Arianna Huffington, speaking to Darling Magazine.]

The other interview is on Verily Magazine with Brigid Schulte, the author of Overwhelmed. It is almost eerie to read what she has to say about ‘time confetti’, so closely do we all identify with the problem that she is putting into words. It’s a relief to hear her describe the experience of modern day leisure-starved workers and parents, because if there’s an accurate diagnosis there’s more likely to be a solution, right?

‘I think I had just hosted a kid’s birthday party when that image of confetti came to me. I realized with a wave of sadness that this was what my time felt like: lots of little pieces, flitting from one thing to the next, not really finishing one thing before I go on to the next, always looking ahead and never being fully present where I am. And that’s really what my time felt like, lots of little bits. Ten minutes here, fifteen minutes there. I think the sadness came from wondering, “Does all of this add up to anything?” At the end of the day, while I was sweeping up confetti, I kept wondering, “What does this add up to?” It didn’t feel like the path to anything substantive or meaningful.

This sense of “time confetti” pollutes all kinds of time, but certainly leisure as well. The term psychologists and sociologists use is “contaminated time,” and that clearly describes the quality of leisure time women have experienced throughout history. Now women’s time is particularly fragmented. Women have all the heavy responsibilities of work and are also primarily responsible for everything at home. Most of us live with a constant sense of worry and planning that really takes you out of the moment, so that even a moment of leisure doesn’t feel like leisure at all.’

What I particularly like in this interview is the sense of hope that things can change, that we each have the power to make that change in our own lives and on a broader cultural level. And there are already places, like Denmark, where things are being done differently – being done better:

‘I went to Denmark because of a time-use study that showed that mothers in Denmark had almost as much leisure time as fathers, which is really unheard of. In most leisure studies I have found there is always a leisure gap between men and women. So I went to Denmark to find the secret of their leisure success and I found that it was a combination of things:

01. Both men and women had short, intense work hours. If you work long hours in Denmark, you are seen as inefficient rather than a good worker. So it was not like here where women can work flex hours and men work long hours and there is this pay-gap penalty.

02. They really value gender equality. You cannot have leisure time for women without gender equality. If you are stuck doing twice the housework, twice the childcare, and your are filled with guilt and you feel like you don’t deserve leisure, then you are never going to have leisure time.

03. The whole culture values leisure time⎯they value time to themselves, they value time with family, they value unplugging from work. Leisure is much more of a cultural norm.

These mothers in Denmark had the most pure leisure time to themselves, whereas our leisure time in America is so larded with guilt that when we do take it, we don’t really enjoy it. I was particularly struck with a comment made by a Danish father I was spending time with. He said “I think Danish women really have a sense of their own value.”’

[Brigid Schulte, speaking to Verily Magazine]



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