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I am excited about autumnnn.
A few days ago, our family met a man from Florida. He recently moved to Wisconsin after a lifetime of Floridian beach living. I thought I should try to toss out a consoling thought about our winters, but he was too preoccupied with the promised glories of autumn to worry about winter. He gushed: "I've never seen leaves change color!"
I love the fall colors too. But one of the reasons I'm eager to dive into autumn this year is because I want to slow down. In autumn, nature begins to slow down, shed excess foliage, darken the windows early, and close up shop.
Strangely, autumn is also the time for school to start and family calendars to EXPLODE. Sometimes I want to hire an event planner just to help us get through a week of school, work, sports, music, theater and church activities. This autumn is no different than any in that regard; we really do have an abundance of scheduled opportunities. Nonetheless, I plan to slow down.
Several things I've been reading lately have confirmed this desire of my heart to stride into autumn with a more leisurely pace.
Yes, Pope Francis suggested we slow down. On July 29th, 2014, Pope Francis offered his top 10 secrets to happiness. Two of those secrets invite us to make room for leisure and to pay attention to what we do with our precious free time.
Secret #4 calls for "a healthy sense of leisure. The pleasures of art, literature and playing together with children have been lost," our Papa warns. The Holy Father encourages parents to make family time a priority, time when families can play together, be together, without screens interrupting the conversation.
The Pope's fifth secret to happiness is related: "Sunday is for family," he affirms, so workers should have the day off to spend with family. I know my own parents made a dedicated effort to have some extraordinary family activity nearly every Sunday. Sometimes this meant day trips to nearby attractions or parks; more often it meant a rousing game of wiffle ball or Trivial Pursuit. Those family days were crucial to the long-term closeness we still enjoy.
These papal "secrets" remind me of one of my favorite books, Josef Pieper's Leisure the Basis Of Culture. Pieper's book delighted me when I first picked it up in college, because it proposed an expansive and liberal view of the human condition I had not fully considered before. Humans are neither gods nor beasts, Pieper maintains, so while we cannot know everything, we have the capacity to pursue wisdom, to hope, and to spend time in wonder.
"Leisure is a form of silence," writes Pieper, "of that silence which is the prerequisite of the apprehension of reality." In other words, shut up. Slow down. Take time TO BE, and to be attentive.
Los Angeles Times
I also recently came across a Los Angeles Times article (from last autumn) which summarizes the findings of a University of Toronto study on the relationship between fast food and happiness. The article opens with a bang:
"Researchers pointed out that Americans have gained more and more leisure time, yet they aren’t any happier."
The researchers theorized that all of our time-saving gadgets and innovations make us preoccupied with shaving seconds off our tasks--so much so, that we are now more inclined to be impatient than we were in the days before time savers. The time saver central to this test was fast food.
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The research focused on people who live in neighborhoods with high concentrations of fast food restaurants. While controlling for factors such as wealth, the researchers put participants in situations where they had to consider how much they enjoyed or "savored" pleasant encounters: photos of nature or "harmonious" music. The study's innovation was to show participants photos of food--in either fast food packaging or fine tableware--before offering them the enjoyable experience.
In general, participants who saw images of fast food before encountering the pleasant photos or music tended to rate their happiness lower and to grow impatient with the music. "All in all," the article summarizes, "researchers found that thinking about fast food made people less likely to savor something pleasurable, which indirectly impaired their ability to derive happiness."
The study isn't conclusive in any way, but what an intriguing suggestion! The more we surround ourselves with time-saving devices, the less inclined we are to enjoy "unproductive" or simply beautiful encounters. I know it's true that sometimes I rush my children through a story they were going to tell me because I was feeling pressed for time. It may feel (very) unproductive to listen to one more non-linear account of the hijinks in Thursday's high school improv class, but how many things in life are more important than mother-teenager bonding? My husband, my children, other people I encounter, music, art, poetry, nature--there is beauty all around me! I want to pay more attention. I want to slow down. I suspect the slowing down will feel like prayer.
I don't really have a foolproof plan about how to slow down. I have a few ideas, like going to bed and rising earlier, making sure I take a little walk in the middle of the day, and reading with my children more often. Maybe all of you have some great ideas you can share in the comments. . . .
I will take as my motto verse 11a from Psalm 46: "Be still and know that I am God!" I think that's God's way of saying "slow the heck down." Who's in?