Simple things to me matter most, yet I often don’t slow down long enough to enjoy them. Let me explain. Hours in a bookstore on a rainy day. Salted peanuts in a Coca Cola glass bottle. Sipping coffee watching the sunrise on my back porch. My dog’s tail wagging when I get home. You get my point.
Just the other night, I watched Forrest Gump for the 43rd time. As Forrest watched his little boy board the school bus, and the forgotten feather drifts up into the clouds, I found myself wondering why it is that I can never turn away from this movie. What is it about this story that appeals to me so?
And it came to me: It’s simple. Forrest’s approach to life, to love, even to storytelling is simple. Brilliantly so. That led to reflection about my own life, the pace at which I live it and how much more fulfilling and healthy it would be for me to simplify.
Think about it. We overcomplicate our own lives. Don’t you often wish that we could slow things down just a notch? I mean, whoever invented the hourglass really had it correct. When you need more time, just turn it back around. How wonderful it would be if time really worked that way. What would you do if you had an hour, a day, a month, or even a year to relive? What would you spend that gift of time doing? It isn’t going to happen, sorry to say. What can happen is that we each can simplify our lives in order to be more intentional with the time we do have, spend it with the ones we love and doing the things we love to do. (I wish someone had told me that during my first year as a teacher in 1987!)
Like many weeks, this has been a jam-packed, fast one for me. I found myself driving through for fast food twice this week for lunch. Think about the term: fast food. Meals are meant to be savored, whether eaten alone or shared with friends or family. And often, when we’re consuming our fast food, we’re also scrolling through our smartphones, multi-tasking and catching up on work. This is bad for us in so many ways.
I love the work author Carl Honore has done on this topic. In his book In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed, he says:
“Like a bee in a flower bed, the human brain naturally flits from one thought to the next. In the high-speed workplace, where data and headlines come thick and fast, we are all under pressure to think quickly. Reaction, rather than reflection, is the order of the day. To make the most of our time, and to avoid boredom, we fill up every spare moment with mental stimulation…Keeping the mind active makes poor use of our most precious resource. True, the brain can work wonders in high gear. But it will do so much more if given the chance to slow down from time to time. Shifting the mind into lower gear can bring better health, inner calm, enhanced concentration and the ability to think more creatively.”
Honore was inspired to write the book (he has since written many more on the topic, including one specifically about overburdened and overscheduled children called Under Pressure) after he realized he was looking for tricks to make bedtime storytime with his son go by more quickly.
“I couldn’t slow down. I’d be speed-reading the Cat in the Hat,” he says. He’d skip paragraphs and entire pages and, of course, his son would call him on it. “What should have been the most relaxing, the most intimate, the most tender moment of the day…became this gladiatorial battle of wills.” Admit it, if you’re a parent, you’ve been there too.
When his reaction to an article on one-minute bedtime stories was “Hallelujah!” he suddenly realized he was attempting to fast forward through the most important part of the day and squandering opportunities that soon will be out of reach.
That was his wakeup call. For others, it’s often a health issue, the destruction of a relationship, the loss of a loved one. I hope it doesn’t take something like that for you to realize that simplifying and slowing down are important. And not just for us, but to model for our students. Children and teens have never been under as much pressure to perform—in academics, athletics, extracurriculars—as they are now. Their days are full of school, tutors, practices, and private lessons. It’s no coincidence that, as this phenomenon has proliferated, child depression and anxiety are at an all-time high.
We treat time as a resource that should not be “wasted.” So we schedule every second of it. But these seconds, minutes and hours make up our lives. Spending time at rest, in deep thought, laughing with friends or reading an actual printed book are not a “waste” of time. They are what make time precious.
I believe people that live simpler lives outlive those that do not. I also believe they are happier. So back to my original question: If you had one more minute, hour, day, month or even a year, what would you do with it?
As we ponder that, remember that we only have one life. So simplify in order to make the next minute, hour or day more enjoyable and purposeful. Remember, we won’t get to turn the hourglass of life back around. Make it count. I know you will.
“That’s all I have to say about that.”—Forrest Gump
Thanks for reading. I’ll write again soon.
Steve Flores, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools