Four Thousand Weeks
- Oliver Burkeman
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Social psychologists call this inability to rest “idleness aversion,”
To rest for the sake of rest—to enjoy a lazy hour for its own sake—entails first accepting the fact that this is it: that your days aren’t progressing toward a future state of perfectly invulnerable happiness, and that to approach them with such an assumption is systematically to drain our four thousand weeks of their value.
In his book Sabbath as Resistance, the Christian theologian Walter Brueggemann describes the sabbath as an invitation to spend one day per week “in the awareness and practice of the claim that we are situated on the receiving end of the gifts of God.” One need not be a religious believer to feel some of the deep relief in that idea of being “on the receiving end”—in the possibility that today, at least, there might be nothing more you need to do in order to justify your existence.
In an age of instrumentalization, the hobbyist is a subversive: he insists that some things are worth doing for themselves alone, despite offering no payoffs in terms of productivity or profit. The derision we heap upon the avid stamp collector or train spotter might really be a kind of defense mechanism, to spare us from confronting the possibility that they’re truly happy in a way that the rest of us—pursuing our telic lives, ceaselessly in search of future fulfillment—are not.
In his book The Road Less Traveled, the psychotherapist M. Scott Peck recounts a transformative experience of surrendering to the speed of reality—one that emphasizes that patience isn’t merely a more peaceful and present-oriented way to live but a concretely useful skill.
In practical terms, three rules of thumb are especially useful for harnessing the power of patience as a creative force in daily life. The first is to develop a taste for having problems.
The second principle is to embrace radical incrementalism.
The final principle is that, more often than not, originality lies on the far side of unoriginality.
Totalitarian movements are mass organizations of atomized, isolated individuals,” wrote Hannah Arendt in The Origins of Totalitarianism.
“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion,” the English humorist and historian C. Northcote Parkinson wrote in 1955, coining what became known as Parkinson’s law.
Once you stop believing that it might somehow be possible to avoid hard choices about time, it gets easier to make better ones. You begin to grasp that when there’s too much to do, and there always will be, the only route to psychological freedom is to let go of the limit-denying fantasy of getting it all done and instead to focus on doing a few things that count.