Stop Laboring on Labor Day

When’s the last time you just hung out and did nothing?  Literally nothing — like sitting there, awake, not looking at your phone, just spacing out?  Keep thinking, I’ll wait.

For most of us, truly relaxing has become a foreign concept.  We look at our phones while we’re waiting in line, we check our work e-mail on vacation, we watch TV when we’re eating.  We talk on the phone while we’re driving. Multi-tasking is a way of life now.

It’s Labor Day in the U.S., a day that celebrates the important contributions of the labor movement.  Early union organizers (like my teamster grandpa) were attacked with hoses, beat with pipes, fired and jailed as they fought for the right to organize unions.  The hard-won victories of labor unions led to safer working conditions, higher wages, benefits, a 40-hour workweek, and time off for things like vacation, sick days and holidays.

And what do we do with our hard-won time off?  We fill it up with constant activity. Doing nothing, truly doing nothing, seems like a waste of time in today’s world. How did this happen?

I heard a phrase recently that really resonated with me: “the corrosive effect of non-stop activity”.  Non-stop activity is like rust, but instead of eating through your car, it’s eating through your soul. It’s wearing us down, making us less strong.  It leads to poor sleep, increased anxiety and depression, less healthy eating, memory problems, and more superficial relationships.

It may also impact our ability to be creative.  When I was a kid, we had long periods of unscheduled time.  There were no play dates or videos or adults directing our play.  Left to our own devices, we dreamed up imaginary worlds, created elaborate games, explored and experimented.  We dreamed big. It seems like few kids have this experience now.   Our kids, just like us, are on the go, engaging in non-stop activity at all times.

I wonder how this will impact our ability to invent and create in the future. What if instead of studying a lightning storm Ben Franklin was watching Netflix?  If Issac Newton was texting, would he have been under that apple tree waiting to get hit in the head?  Would women everywhere have had the chance to fall in love with Mr. Darcy if Jane Austen played Angry Birds instead of creating stories?

Today as we celebrate Labor movement’s effort to get us some free time I encourage you to take a few minutes and do nothing. Absolutely nothing.  Rest. Relax. Space out.  Watch the clouds or the water or stare at the tree outside your window. Be with yourself, and see where your mind takes you.

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