Have you even noticed that, with all the surprises and unpredictable intrusions life throws at us, what we find most tiring are the very predictable ways our days unfold. There is an interesting paradox in most of our lives. We have a very intentional routine we follow, but over time, it is that same routine whose unwavering demands sap our joy, and the energy needed to keep going.
Many of us work in fields where the demand for productivity never ends, and the necessity of efficiency is a given. Simply put, we are driven to take advantage of every moment of every day, while harboring the dreaded reality that every success only leads to new challenges and opportunities that will demand we do it all over again, and again, and again.
The medical field, buttressed by research from the social sciences, has told us for years that all work and no rest and rejuvenation not only makes us dull, and prone to all manner of physical maladies, it also keeps us from enjoying the very life we are trying so hard to maximize. What is needed is not only time away from the stresses of work, but also – and most importantly – a consistent dose of daily beauty.
Beauty is a term from the academic study of Aesthetics, which itself is a division of the larger field called Ethics devoted to the nature and necessity of beauty. Merriam-Webster defines beauty as “the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit.”
We have always understood the power of beauty. We all recognize the way watching our grandchildren “pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit.” We feel it when we’re alone with the wind on a mountain trail, or when we’re with those we love marveling at the magnificence of a sunset. We gaze at the ocean which, though constantly moving, seems always unchanged. The fact is, beauty is all around us, inviting us into its pleasure, and we are simply too busy, too driven, too stubborn to stop and drink it in.
So, here are some suggestions, for those of us who found ourselves in the last sentence above, on things to stop in order to start finding and enjoying beauty in life. Try to go a full day putting these in play.
1. Stop complaining. Have you noticed we complain about everything? It’s as if complaining has become our “go to” in conversations with others. Here’s the deal: to complain you have to go negative, and negativity will make it hard for you to see the good, the beauty around you. So, I dare you. Go a whole day without complaining about anything.
2. Stop criticizing. Some of us look for things to criticize. For some of you, this column is one of your favorite targets. I could opine that the sky is blue and a bunch of you would fly into flagrant criticism of my choice of colors. And while interaction is welcomed, and appreciated, and frankly, good for circulation, if you’ve become a serial criticizer, you’re hurting yourself more than you know. So, here’s the dare. See if you can go through a day without criticizing anyone or anything. And if you’re one of our elected officials, how about spending a week working on solutions rather than chipping away at your opponents? Just sayin’.
3. Turn off your social drip system. A drip system for your plants is healthy. The constant drip of social and other media can actually parch at your soul. For one day, turn off all your notifications, leave your smart watch at home, refuse to check social media, and instead invest yourself in conversations about things of beauty with those you love. Find out what makes them happy and figure out a way to join them in a walk, a concert, or a sunset.
4. Lastly, don’t go back. Refuse to get back into the lane of complaining, criticizing, and the constant drip of mostly useless information. A famous pianist, when asked the secret of his prowess said “planned neglect. Since I was a boy I have planned to neglect anything that would hinder my musical progress.”
I’m suggesting we all plan to neglect those things in our daily routines that erode our joy for life. Instead, look for good things, gracious and beautiful things that have the power to refresh us, rejuvenate our joy, and increase our wonder at the privilege of being alive. You’ll find you’re much happier, and those around you will be happier too.
David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident. “Ethically Speaking” runs Saturdays in The Signal.