Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. ~ Howard Thurman Click To Tweet
It’s true. Far too many of us are not living the lives we could be. Bills, work, relationship woes, money troubles and not enough leisure time have given us all a bad case of the First World Blues.
Yes, things are much worse for a lot of others on many different parts of the planet, and yes, the lifestyles we feel trapped in are, in reality, the very model many others would count themselves lucky to be living in, but this still does not change the reality as it stands for us.
We may be able to make ourselves feel temporarily (and selfishly) better through comparison, and through realizing that we live, by much of the world’s standards, in the lap of absolute luxury, but at the end of the day, we remain over-stressed and over-worked.
While the rest of the world strives for our ‘ideal’ lifestyle — things like bigger homes, cars instead of bicycles and full-time work — we are actually living it, and finding out that it is not everything it’s cracked up to be. Things could be worse, yes, but they could also be one heck of a lot better.
So what does this mean? How can we make life better for ourselves, and in turn re-invigorate our sense of being with the fulfilled, positive energy it takes to actually make a difference in the lives of others?
Traditionally it has meant making enough money to retire early, or acquiring more things, or making our way up the corporate or academic ladder to a position of authority, where we then have the power and tools to make a difference. Yet a new idea is beginning to emerge. One that has far more to do with less stuff, and more time. This is the secret: time. Time infused with love.
Believe it or not, this is not new news. It is, I believe, something all of us inherently know, but that we’ve been trained out of. Instead, we’ve been led to believe that time is only attainable through the acquisition of power and possessions. It isn’t.
It’s time now to realize this and take action (as certain European countries have done in recent years), and demonstrate to the world — and ourselves — that the ‘perfect’ model of life as we’ve been living it in the west is a fallacy, and that it’s necessary for us now to begin relaxing again, celebrating again, and being human again, and that doing so is possible through the reclamation of a few simple, ordinary and very human ‘guilty pleasures’ that we’ve all been falsely led to believe are undesirable.
Here are six of the most fundamental.
Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn. ~ Mahatma Gandhi Click To Tweet
Very little is still known about sleep, even in this age of accelerating scientific knowledge, but one thing is certain: sleep heals.
This is something that has always been known. Along with fasting, ancient cultures used sleep as a primary method of treating a great number of ailments, both physical and psychological, some even considering the dream-state and the happenings there to be the property of the tribe as a whole, sharing the experiences they had the night before with the rest of the community every morning.
In present times, much of that ancient reverence has been lost. Continuing to push at things without the proper sleep required for freshness of mind and body is unfortunately endemic to first world society.
While the specific amount needed per night varies from person to person, it has been generally established that anything less than 6 hours can have a detrimental effect over the course of time.
Learning to listen to our bodies in this regard and making sleep a priority again is integral for good health. We should not feel guilty about getting the sleep our bodies need. No matter how busy we are, sometimes the most productive thing we can do is sleep.
Integrating a healthy respect for this precious resource back into our daily lives will assuredly find our time in the waking world being far more productive, effective and pleasurable.
You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. ~ Plato Click To Tweet
The importance of play is something that has been expounded upon by many of the greatest minds throughout history. Albert Einstein, Alan Watts, Aldous Huxley, even Nietszche, all realized that some of the most profound insights into life are more apt to arrive through the important portal of play than anywhere else.
When we play, even as adults — when we are engaged in an activity that makes time disappear because it is so fun and engrossing — our creative faculties are at their peak.
This type of elemental activity, which is something that all animals naturally engage in, but most humans have talked themselves out of by a certain age, has been shown to lead to accelerated learning, heightened levels of contentment and happiness, and important growth in societal and familial relationships.
Not to be confused with sleep, rest can be defined as the natural aftermath of play. If play is the cresting of the wave of creative energies, rest is the breaking of it.
Rest is settling back into a relaxed and contemplative state of mind, in which one begins to integrate the lessons learned over the course of one’s days and nights.
More than this, however, rest also possesses its own rhythms, ones that, as with all the others on this list, must be intuitively listened to as much as possible. Sometimes long periods of leisure, during which one satisfies their natural urges to simply relax, read, watch movies, couple and cuddle, or whatever else comes up naturally, can be incredibly restorative and invigorating.
Sexually progressive cultures gave us literature, philosophy, civilization and the rest, while sexually restrictive cultures gave us the Dark Ages and the Holocaust. ~ Alan Moore Click To Tweet
While the data is still accruing, the many overall health benefits of sex (that many of us already suspected) have begun to crystallize, mostly through The Kinsey Institute, over the last decade and-a-half.
From lowering your blood pressure to possibly slowing the aging process, the list of physical and psychological advantages that come from maintaining a regular, healthy and exciting sex life are seemingly endless.
It has been shown to increase self-esteem and a personal sense of well-being; it induces oxytocin, which is the body’s own love drug, and it can greatly alter one’s outlook on the world. (Everyone knows how a good, long night of hot sex can plant roses everywhere the following day, even in places where none were sure to grow previously.)
And, while sex can definitely have detrimental effects when things such as guilt or shame enter the picture, or when one partner feels pressured or unsure, or it is used in any type of divisive or controlling manner, it is important to stress here that any sexual activity between two honest and loving partners, in which their whole hearts are participating, simply cannot be detrimental. How could it be?
Even if no one else is involved (or if it is an asexual romance), as with masturbation, if there is a high level of self-appreciation, connection, gratitude and play, the benefits of this free, natural activity, enjoyed often, are most likely plenty. Used rightly, passionate sexual energy can transform lives.
Anyone who has truly travelled, as opposed to simply vacationed, knows the benefits inherent to it. Travelling causes one’s ego to take a back seat. It undoes cultural conditioning and sets the process of ‘unlearning’ into full motion. It reminds one of the inherent similarities between all humans, even as it thrills and confounds by showing us all of the glaring, ostensible differences.
Not only this, it re-invigorates one with a passion for life and the world that is often lost after enduring endless days, weeks and years in the same daily routine.
And contrary to the beliefs of many, it can and should be done at any age. The internet has opened the world to us all. Not only is it easier than ever to navigate our way to the tiniest corners of the earth, it is also more possible than in any age prior to start making a ‘passive’ income from selling products or ideas online in order to fund one’s journeys.
Adventure travel is no longer something simply reserved for 20-somethings just out of post secondary education, or for retired grandparents. It can be done by people in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, and of course, it’s fun for kids and teenagers too.
Children in particular will benefit greatly from extensive exposure to foreign places, as they are still in the process of being ‘enculturated’ by their respective homelands, so seeing the world will help immensely in keeping that programming from being too one-sided and constrictive.
Just as sex is far more than a simple means of reproduction for humans, so too does food travel well beyond the realm of simple metabolic fuel.
We love to eat because we love to taste.
And, while there are many, many sensual delights available to us in the magical realms of flavour, this area is, yet again, another aspect of life that has been far too dumbed down by the first world and its addiction to pre-packaged answers for everything.
Something as important and sacred to the human experience as breaking bread needs to be honoured. Good food touches lives and brings people together. Educating ourselves by getting directly involved with the fine and endless art of cuisine – from the prep to the plate, and all the steps between — will undoubtedly enrich not only our respective palettes, but our lives as well.
Yet there seems to be more guilt associated with food than with almost any of the other guilty pleasures. The multi-billion dollar diet industry is a clear testament to this.
And, while there is a definite difference between indulgence and gluttony, proper appreciation of good food calls for less of an either/or approach. It is wholly possible to enjoy healthy meals that are also exceptionally tasty. And, in my opinion, it is fine to treat ourselves to rich and otherwise ‘sinful’ foods more often than we may think.
This doesn’t mean that we end every meal with a triple-stacked chocolate Sunday, or forgo the meal altogether in favour of said dessert. What it does mean, however, is that we stop feeling so guilty when we do indulge, and simply surrender ourselves wholly to the enjoyment of the food instead.
There are many European countries that understand this, and indulge in a number ‘sinful’ foods and their respective counterparts (think strong coffee, after-meal cigarettes, ‘night caps’, etc) without anywhere near the amount of guilt that many in the Americas attach to them. And while this is simply an observation derived from my own experience, and I haven’t looked into any data surrounding the matter, it’s my guess that the levels of obesity, diabetes, heart-disease and other correlating factors in many of those countries are probably lower than they are over here (think the “French Paradox“).
Mind over matter? Possibly. While it may have something to do with being juxtaposed with the tremendous benefits of the mediterranean diet, one thing’s for sure: the matter we prepare as food seems to work much better for us when it is both created, and consumed, with love.
Yes, given this list, it would almost seem one would need to win the lottery in order to be able to pull back from the frantic, fast-paced world we live in and fully engage all of them.
Yet all of us possess pockets of time we know we could be spending more wisely, i.e. doing something we genuinely enjoy, so next time you catch yourself resisting some fun out of nothing other than an old psychological guilt-reflex, relax that militant mind of yours and indulge.
You’ll be happier, and most likely healthier, because of it.