I've been trying to "stop and smell the roses." Not too many years ago this was something people said all the time, imploring us to take time to enjoy life. But that was prior to cell phones, e-mail, Facebook, tweets-on-Twitter and other "tyranny of the urgent." Most Americans find themselves way too busy. I know I am. Pressures in the current economy add to the stress, and suddenly large portions of life have sped by, with scant appreciation for the little things along the way.
A recent article in The New York Times highlighted a new term called "network deprivation" (formerly known as "sleep"). It's a phenomenon where more and more people can't relax due to all the high-tech communication awaiting them. They're obsessed with the wonders of the Internet. Rolling out of bed in the morning, even before grabbing coffee, many go immediately to the Web to check the inbox and social networking sites. Kids hop on video games. Family chats and devotional time is squeezed out of the routine, and (ironically) social skills in real life diminish. According to experts, Internet traffic used to surge when Americans got to work. Now it moves into top gear at 7 a.m.
Recently our family took a weekend to revisit Big Bear Lake, a place were we vacationed at least once a year for decades.
Most of our family was there for the fun, except daughter Kristin, (last year she escaped much of the rat race by moving to Truckee in Northern California, already figuring out what I was about to learn.) Our family getaway was a nostalgic time, and a clear, constant reminder to enjoy creation and take a break from the day-to-day hectic routine.
Typically I take three or four days to totally unwind, but this time the same result was achieved in just a few hours. It took lots of mental focus, prayer and determination to stay away from Web connections. It also didn't hurt that service is spotty in places in the mountains. But I quickly understood that I had to adjust my thinking, freeing myself of the phone, text messaging and TV (Hey, I'm in the news business, so television's on my cell phone, too).
What's the worse thing that could happen?
I recalled something a management expert said in a seminar years ago about how to get rid of paperwork in the office. She explained, "Constantly ask yourself 'What's the worse thing that will happen if I throw this away?'" Chances are, nothing will occur. And in an emergency you can likely find a copy of what you trashed.
No, I didn't throw away my cell phone (too essential on regular work days) but I did resist the temptation to make a few return calls or send text updates from the shores of the lake. And I opted out of dragging along my laptop computer.
It hit me: What's the worst thing that would happen if I disconnected for a mere two days? Nothing. People could wait until Monday. Besides, in an emergency they knew where to reach me.
I was breaking the techno-addiction... and it felt good! I was suddenly in full "vacation mode" (though that's something my family fears when I'm too relaxed and driving).
It helped to have our first grandchild along with us. Someone has said if you want to get away from the worries and stress of life, spend some time with a child. Little not-quite-two-year-old Mark was always wanting to hang out with his "Bompa" (that would be me). On our umpteenth walk in the woods (well, I'd usually walk and carry the fast-growing boy) it was a revelation: I was taking note of so many things I usually missed…marveling, as he was, over seemingly small things, scenes and events. Unusual trees, a bug here and there, a woodpecker banging his head against a tree (and enjoying it, apparently). Even my usual regimen of relaxing, reading, guzzling coffee changed whenever he wanted my attention.
It was as if God said: Hey, wake up!. Time flies. Get a grip. Enjoy this!
Treasured stars and sons
Other treasured moments included getting my sons to walk out under the dark night sky to gawk at the stars and constellations, just like when they were kids. We even spotted a satellite speeding overhead.
The fresh air, trees, wildflowers, mystery noises in nature, the mountaintop horizon, boating on the lake, reliving special times from years past and even playing board games together… it all seemed to put the entire world on hold.
In these times of frenzied activity, it is indeed a good thing to pause, take a deep breath, observe and absorb what's around us. And often what seems to be most insignificant can bring the greatest impact.
As the 1970s Mac Davis song goes, "There's a whole lot more to life than work and worry. The sweetest things in life are free... you've got to stop and smell the roses. You've got to count your many blessings everyday."
Larson is a veteran Southern California radio/television personality and media consultant. He can be heard daily in San Diego on KCBQ 1170AM from 7-9AM. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published, September 2009