The lost art of joy – Rest

So Christmas 2017 has come and gone for those of us just to the right of the International Date Line. How did you fare? Was your Christmas a day of joy?

Now we’re in the post-Christmas hangover, the come down from the sugar and ethanol excesses of the day before. In Australia, New Zealand and the UK, we call December 26th “Boxing Day”, although it doesn’t have anything to do with pugilism. The name most likely derives from the giving of Christmas “boxes”, a tradition which may date back to the Middle Ages when church members would collect money for the poor in alms boxes which were opened on the day after Christmas in honour of St Stephen, the first Christian martyr, whose feast day falls on 26 December. The tradition may even be older than that, possibly dating back to the Christianised late Roman empire. Either way, at some point St Stephen’s Day became associated with public acts of charity.

In modern Australia, the boxes that are usually associated with Boxing Day are the boxes you put all the loot you’ve acquired in the post-Christmas sales into. So it’s a bit of an irony that what was once a day of giving to those less fortunate have become about acquiring more things for yourself.

But I digress.

The post-Christmas sales are traditionally a day of high-stress chaos as throngs of enthusiastic shoppers crowd the malls again, to fight for car parking spaces, tables at cafes, space to walk around, and toilet cubicles. Hours of this at a time can suck the positivity out of even the hardiest of shoppers.

It doesn’t have to be this way though. The cure for post-Christmas languor doesn’t have to be more stress, but if anything, Boxing Day could easily be a day of rest.

Making time to rest is an important part of maintaining good health. Forms of deep relaxation, such as meditation, not only relieve stress and anxiety, but also improve mood. Deep relaxation can also decrease blood pressure, relieve pain, and improve your immune and cardiovascular systems. Relaxation doesn’t always mean sleeping (although good sleep also helps to maintain a good mood and good health overall) or just things like meditation. Rest and relaxation can involve having a laugh, which decreases pain, promotes muscle relaxation and can reduce anxiety. Rest and relaxation can involve taking the time to simply connect with friends without having to work hard to try and impress them. Even something as simple as a hug from a good friend, or patting your dog or cat, can be relaxing and mood lifting. Remember, R+R involves anything that makes you feel better at the end than it did at the beginning.

So, there’s still joy to be found, even in the post-Christmas hangover. This can be done as they did traditionally, by giving to those less fortunate, or in taking the time to relax and unwind from the celebration of Christmas, or even in the simple connection of a hug from a friend.

The lost art of joy – Life-life balance

It’s all about balance …

Balance. It’s an interesting concept. We see it all the time, all around us, because nearly everything around us relies on some form of balance to function properly. Indeed, we need a particular form of balance, called homeostasis, in order for our bodies to keep functioning at their optimum level.

That’s no different for our schedule. If we don’t get our schedule right, if our priorities are out of kilter, then our lives fail to perform at their optimum level, and we open the door to the joy-thief of excessive stress.

The prevailing concept of optimised priorities in our society since the 70’s and 80’s is “work-life balance” – the idea being that work (career and ambition) and lifestyle (health, pleasure, leisure, family) are different and separate.

Though as one of my very clever, slightly workaholic friends says, it’s a bit of a false dichotomy. People can get immense pleasure from their careers as much as people can find ‘lifestyle’ activities distinctly un-pleasurable. What we need is a life-life balance.

The problem lies in how we define ‘work’ and ‘life’. Work and leisure can both bring pleasure. So we just need to redefine what ‘work’ and ‘life’ consist of, and we can have a meaningful conversation.

There are probably lots of ways of conceptualising this, but for me, I think of ‘work’ as ‘anything that makes you feel less refreshed than you felt before you started’. And, ‘Rest and recreation’ is the opposite of work. Rest and recreation is ‘anything that makes you feel more refreshed at the end than you felt at the beginning’.

As an example, some people love gardening. They love being outside in the fresh air, on their knees in the dirt, weeding and fertilizing, knowing that come spring they will have a lawn like a carpet framed by a floral tapestry. Despite it being physically demanding, they feel more relaxed and invigorated for their few hours in the garden. For them, gardening is rest and recreation. Personally, I hate gardening. I could think of nothing worse. I’m a Darwin-style gardener … it’s survival of the fittest for the plants in my garden! Gardening would suck the life out of me, so for me, gardening would be work.

For most people, paid and unpaid work and study would be considered ‘work’, but for my hyper-intelligent, slightly workaholic friend, work and study stimulate her. She loves being productive, learning new things and challenging herself. Her work and her study are not ‘work’ for her. They are for me though. I like learning, to a point, but for me, “much study is a weariness unto the flesh”. I would much rather be having a massage than reading a textbook.

So what is the optimum balance of work and R&R to have the best life-life balance? Again, there are no hard and fast rules here. The key is learning your limits and sticking to them. More about this in future blog posts. But as a general guide, I have three main rules:

1. The Triple-8 Rule
The Triple-8 Rule is: “8 hours work, 8 hours sleep, and 8 hours rest and recreation make up the 24 hour day.”

2. The Sabbath Rule
The Sabbath Rule is: “If God rested on the seventh day, then so should you.”

Whatever your schedule, make sure you abstain from work at least one day a week.

3. The Holiday Rule
The Holiday Rule is: “Take at least two weeks holiday every year.”

We have the Holiday Rule because we need extended R&R to further refresh our bodies and minds.  A study of more than 12,000 middle-aged men over the course of a decade showed that annual vacations were associated with a decrease risk of death, especially from heart attacks. When we have an extended time of rest and recreation, our stress hormones have a chance to rebalance.

To achieve this state of renewal, we need at least 10 days of R&R in a row, but a full 14 days is better. So having a few four-day weekends scattered throughout the year isn’t enough – you need two weeks as a block (and more if you can!) Two weeks off a year still gives you fifty weeks to be productive, and if you have those two weeks off, you’ll find that your fifty weeks will be more productive than a full year without a break.

Balance is the key. When you have balance, you have life. When you have life, joy can flourish.