Podcasts, idling and the science of happiness

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Yes, I’m definitely behind the times – but it’s the getting there that matters, not the time it takes to get there, right? Like so many others, it’s been about 11 weeks of a straight up life shift. This is hard and harder for so very many. And, like many who are finding the emotional roller coaster of all things global pandemic, I too go through phases of let’s be productive and learn something new and ugh, I’m going to go lay on my yoga mat and hope that when I open my eyes the world is healthier, kinder, and far more equitable. Does that happen to you?

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In my moments of let’s learn new things and work on stuff, I’ve taken an online course at Yale in the Science of Well-Being, presently taking an online Yoga Anatomy class, constantly sharpening my colored pencils that are happily getting used, and am trying to improve my auditory learning by listening more actively. And yes, then there are those other moments when my anxious mind takes flight, my fingers breach the dark chocolate chip package, the Law and Order dvd is on repeat, and the tears flow freely even while sitting in the healing rays of vitamin D. The continuous external stimuli is maddening. Whether it’s coming from the onslaught of awful, the barrage of social media, the shock of seeing so many refusing to wear masks for the love of humanity or you know, the different approaches that each state or country’s government takes – it’s a lot, a whole hell of a lot. How are you handling it all?

‘Sometimes our mind deliver us information at full force that is factually incorrect – ‘That’s the right answer, that’s what’s going to make us happy’, and it’s actually wrong’ – Dr. Laurie Santos

After the first class of my online Yale experience, the professor, Dr. Laurie Santos noted that she has a podcast that aligns with the class – so, I figured, why not? I had only ever tried one other podcast prior to that and while I did attempt to listen – it was on in the background, I didn’t grasp it all, and I heard more noise than actual beneficial learning. This visual learner wasn’t ready to give it a shot. I’m getting better at it – what about you?

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So, now apparently I’m a podcast fan. Since the weekend beach escapades are now reserved for terrace sunshine, I’ve sometimes flipped to headphones in lieu of magazines – mingling the good juju of vitamin D time with the good juju of happiness podcasts. It’s a start – and I’m open to hearing your favorites for sure. For now, my two gotos are The Happiness Lab (the one that coincides with that Yale wellness class) and another she recommended, 10 Percent Happier with Dan Harris. The two are totally different yet they’re both in the sphere of meditation, working on yourself, and learning how the science of the mind directly relates to our life’s happiness quotient. Seriously – they’re so cool.

‘Happiness is not a goal…it’s a by-product of a life well-lived’ – Eleanor Roosevelt

In each one, I’ve learned. The last one on The Happiness Lab was about time affluence and time famine, two terms I had yet to hear before the knowledgeable professor popped out of my headphones. She interviewed Tom Hodgkinson, author of How to Be Idle: A Loafer’s Manifesto. They discussed the art of doing nothing, dismantling the badge of being busy, and how adding that art of doing nothing to your schedule can actually change the game. I loved it. I loved the term time affluence; meaning feeling like you have enough time versus the time famine; feeling like you don’t. With the same number of hours in each of our days, we each feel differently about how we spend those hours, the appointments we feel we ‘need’ to keep, whether we’re stretched or have room to breathe, and how those continued feelings impact our overall happiness.

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Yes, I fully grasp that having this conversation and taking the time to delve into it further is one of privilege. Even being able to consider the idea of setting aside time to do nothing can be seen as such in today’s day and age. Yet, in our travels, we’ve come across groups of individuals, tribal cultures, and larger generations old communities who have that art of doing nothing ingrained into their behavior. When looking at research and anthologies of history, the people who have employed that wisdom are calmer, more aware, have a greater sense of patience and gratitude, and are often happier overall. Why then, in the 21st century, where we hold computers in the palms of our hands and can hop into driverless cars, do we still have such a block in working towards facilitating that time affluence and actually doing what the research tells us can actually make us happier?

‘If you want health, wealth and happiness…the first step is to throw away your alarm clocks’ – Tom Hodgkinson

I’ve yet to figure out why, but, being busy seems to be a badge of honor these days. Often people see weekends as time to have plans, time to do things, and time to get stuff done that didn’t happen during those constantly packed weekdays. Some cram a commitment into every hour of every day. Whether that appointment is a yoga class, a course, or a meeting with a colleague – it’s a plan. Even amidst a global pandemic, when most of us are asked to shelter in place, we still find ways to plan, to fill our days with appointments, and ‘be someplace at a fixed time’ even if that time is in our own living room. When was the last time you legitimately planned to do nothing? When was the last time you hung out after that yoga class and randomly got coffee with a friend? When was the last time you sat down to color, to think, to wander through the forest, or to call a friend and give them your fullest attention for an uninterrupted time frame?

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These past few years, I’ve aimed for more time like that and less time being busy. It’s hard – for years, I was part of that busy crowd. A colleague of mine said when she needed something done, she’d give it to me, the busiest person she knew. While I’m thrilled that I was able to do all of those things, and trust me, most of those things actually did make me feel fully happy – according to the science of the mind, perhaps if I spent a bit more time at the beach, a bit more time just laying on my yoga mat, or making sure to employ that art of idling more – my brain would get to happy even faster. Search for those epic days where getting lost becomes an adventure, when wiling away the time with friends literally lifts your soul, and when you get to spend those endless hours running your toes through the sand (or whatever that is for you).

‘Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished’ – Lao Tzu

These days, I aim for time affluence more than time famine. Sure, for a start, this isn’t an always attainable goal, but, perhaps, like meditation, the more we practice, the more we begin to settle into that habit, the more our bodies and minds will follow. I now look forward to these podcasts about taking time to meditate, finding joy in the everyday, and the science of happiness. I sit, with nothing else to steal my attention, and listen. My auditory comprehension is getting incrementally better and at least now, I look forward to the words, the sentiment, and can hear more than just noise. I hope you too, can head in that time affluence direction and find a voice that cuts through the noise to help guide you along your way. Happy listening.

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