Standing still in a marathon-running society

Bigger, better, faster - it always needs to be more. In the rush of the 21st century, we seem to have forgotten to be satisfied with what we have in the present moment. But recently, we have been struck. As many of the things we used to keep ourselves so incredibly busy with came to a sudden stop, it gave us room to think - room to reconsider. Why are we constantly running around, stressing about tomorrow, and pushing ourselves to improve? I personally thought it was a good idea to combine my full-time second year at the Amsterdam Fashion Institute with a 32 hour internship. It was not. It resulted in me being burnt out at only 20 years old, which made me think; why would I ever consider to push myself to such an extent, if it will not make me happy at all? 


A fast-paced society

An international study by Richard Wiseman from the University of Hertfordshire has shown that over the past 10 years, our walking speed has increased 10%. This is not because our legs suddenly started to move faster, or because we needed to move quicker - this is because we feel increasingly busy, rushed, and pressured. We feel a continuous need to arrive at the next thing, and taking 10 minutes longer to enjoy the journey feels like a waste of time.

The problem is that our brains can not possibly keep up with this pace - they have barely developed over the last 400 years - whereas life has changed completely. In one of her lectures, brain and lifestyle expert Charlotte Labee explains that the current pace of life and all that we are trying to process in our brains can be compared to downloading Adobe Photoshop on an old Nokia. It is simply not possible.

The next big thing

We are always focused on the next big thing that will make us happy. Your next job opportunity, this year’s summer holiday, the moment you finally meet the love of your life. As Gretchen Rubin explains in her podcasts Happier, this starts from a very young age. We learn that we are always on our way; there is always something to strive for that will make us happy. First school, then preferably more school, then a good job, then a life-partner, a house, a car, children, and once you’ve achieved all of that, there will be a new goal in sight, which will once again make it impossible to enjoy all that you have. We learn that, because of this, happiness is never right now - happiness can not be found in fresh sheets, or morning coffee. Instead, we now let our happiness depend on external factors, the tangible things. Such as a grand dinner, holidays, or achievements at work. Recently, worldwide lockdowns have shown us we can not take any of these things for granted.

As Eckhart Töll also explains in his book The Power Of Now, we can not let our happiness depend on external factors, because that would mean that if they disappear - so would our happiness. Instead, we need to find happiness in the now, in our loved ones, in fresh sheets, in morning coffee - no matter how cliche that might sound.

Productivity guilt

In this fast paced, goal-oriented society, we feel we can not possibly be standing still. When was the last day you truly did nothing? When we are unproductive, we feel like we are sinning, so-called productivity guilt. New York Times essayist Tim Kreider explains how this originates from the goal-oriented society we live in, where happiness is measured by success and achievements. When we are standing still, we think we are endangering our achievements, therefore our success, and therefore our happiness. We are constantly reminded of this pressure through our phones and social media - Sarah just launched her own label? How could I possibly be happy laying in bed with a cup of tea on a lazy sunday?

Beneficial boredom

While actually, the moments we are doing nothing, are incredibly beneficial for our brain. Our best ideas occur when we are bored, since our creativity peaks. Sandi Mann, senior psychology lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire, explains how boredom is ‘a search for neural stimulation that isn’t satisfied’ and how ‘if we can’t find that, our mind will create it’. The unconscious mind quite literally fills the gap with ideas that are intuitive, based on instinct. I can’t remember the last time I was actually bored. Can you? We fill our days to a maximum, while pausing everything for a while would be nothing but beneficial for us.

It is all about perspective

So how can we slow down and find happiness in the now, while the world is spinning at an incredible speed? The most important thing I have learned along the way, is to rethink the goal and purpose of your life. If you realise that the only thing you can truly accomplish for yourself in this one life we get, is to be genuinely happy, your perspective on life will change. Why would you push yourself to a crazy extent, if the result of this is stress and unhappiness? This does not mean you can not have goals, it simply means that you need to find happiness in the present moment, even when those goals have not (yet) been achieved. You get this one shot at life! Please, live it for yourself, and make your mind the most wonderful place to stay. It is the only thing you can truly do for yourself in the end. Say no more often, take more rest, appreciate the things you already have that make you grateful, find happiness in your morning coffee, and realise that the only one that can eventually make you happy, is you.


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