St. Frances de Sales, the patron saint of journalists and writers, once said, “Half an hour’s meditation each day is essential, except when you are busy. Then a full hour is needed.”
I’ve been thinking about statement almost obsessively over the past five days for two reasons: One, I read this article on the “radical idea” of people taking 24 hours of absolute solitude and, two, I got hurt exercising and have been confined against my will as my injury heals.
While every person’s road to happiness is different, there are some things that research shows increase happiness in general, and one of them is a little bit of silence. Not every day, necessarily, and not necessarily for a long time, but some silence sometime. Some of us – the ones already prone to overthinking everything – might actually be harmed by too much solitude, too much “think time.” These folks might be better aimed toward happiness by actively helping other people.
I’m a middle-of-the-roader here: I need both active engagement and time alone, and I’ve found that as I’ve gotten older, the need for the latter has increased greatly, something I could never have imagined when I was 20. The times I’ve felt happiest (except for the births of each of my kids) have been when I’ve actually DONE something to help someone out, like when I helped gut houses in New Orleans with a bunch of teenagers after Hurricane Katrina.
I need evidence of my work, to see that I’ve done something concrete to make the world a better place, in order to get the hit of happiness that keeps me going in this life. Writing a check to a charity just doesn’t do it, nor does sitting on a board of a charity that does good work I never touch. I’m a hands-on, get-it-done girl who doesn’t like to be told “No,” or “Let’s have a meeting” or “Perhaps we should pray about it.”
That said, I’ve found that if I don’t have some reflection time – about 60 minutes/week – my hamster-wheel brain jumps from one idea to another with not a whole lot of direction. I need silence, pure and uninterrupted, to prioritize where my energy would best be spent in this world of need.
I think for most folks, distracted by texting, tweeting, Web surfing, IMing, Face Book and every other technological do-dad, a little silence could go a long way toward offering some perspective and peace.
And most importantly, that silence would give us time to think, as opposed to having our brains be constantly revved up by outside stimuli. Great ideas don’t just jump into one’s mind fully formed, all the nits worked out. Creativity – be it in the science lab or the art studio – is fed by the ability to daydream. And daydreaming can’t happen when one’s mind (or a section of one’s mind) is distracted by NOISE.
So, all you happiness seekers out there, some questions for today: Have you ever sought out absolute solitude (no outside stimulation at all, including books) as a means toward peacefulness, happiness or a more contented life? When was the last time you just laid on your back looking at clouds, or, at night, looking at the stars? How does silence – or the lack thereof – affected your overall well-being? Or, are you a person who needs action more than silence for happiness?