I am no stranger to the hustle and bustle that defines America. I pride myself on productivity, on what I can achieve in a day, a week, a month. I like deadlines, I like deliverables, I like waking up early and going to sleep late and being busy all the hours in between. I like it because that is what my culture esteems. We are a country that is busy – constantly busy. America congratulates the over-workers, the overachievers, the overcommitted. If you can do more, you should be doing more. Squeeze in that workout; fold the laundry you have been putting off, never leave a moment unfilled. Never cease to be busy.
Collectively, I have spent almost 8 weeks in Europe, which is almost two months – which is not even close to enough time. I love it here. I am drawn to the history, the people, the walking, the architecture, the food, and most importantly the quality of life.
In Europe they work to live – they don’t live to work. There is a value put on quality time with loved ones and you can feel it. In America, without having a system in place to measure “how quality” your quality time is with your loved ones, the importance of such an act diminishes. Americans like the measurable. The things that allow us to say that this month my numbers are higher, my salary is more, the scale says less and so on. It is hard to measure how much we loved our children each day, hard to measure how much we showed our significant other that they are, in fact, significant to us.
Quality of life is more than the luxury of being able to afford Starbucks daily or a house cleaner once a week. Quality of life is more than paying off your student loans before you turn 30. Quality of life is more than having a huge kitchen that everyone could gather in. Quality of life is sharing that daily coffee with someone other than your car as you go through the drive-thru. It is having a house cleaner because you are devoting time to simply being with your family on a Saturday – not being with your blackberry. It is not having a huge kitchen that has the capacity to be filled – it is actually filling that kitchen with loved ones and fresh meat from the butchery and fresh bread from the bakery. Quality of life is having conversations with the people that are important to you. It is listening to stories, anecdotes, hearing about interesting articles, talking through views of politics, raising awareness across the generations of your family; quality of life is connecting. Connecting with your butcher, your baker, with the other parents at school, with the guy you get your vegetables from at the market. Quality of life is knowing your community firsthand, connecting with your neighborhood, knowing its bones because you walk through it every day.
To an extent we are culturally bound. America does not have a single school that halts for two or three hours so that children can go home and have a meal with their families. Our shops do not close from 1-3 so that store owners can be with their families. We often call lunch “lunch hour” and honestly most of us are lucky if we get that entire 60 minutes. It looks a lot more like shoveling down a salad at our desk while we “relax” which is code for reading through our emails that we are obligated to respond to. We do not have quaint streets that make transportation by foot reasonable or feasible at all sometimes. In place of it we have urban sprawl and meats, bread and produce that comes from a commercial grocery.
The indisputable commonality we have with Europe is time. We have 24 hours in a day. The way we spend that time is what matters. Quality time with loved ones leads to a higher quality of life. I urge you, from the bottom of my European-loving-heart, to slow down. To eradicate the word “busy” from your vocabulary. When your friend reaches out for coffee or your mother wants to have a lunch date or you want to indulge in a glass of wine with your sister – you must cease to be “too busy” for these things. These are the things that do not feed your bank account, do not make your sales higher for the month, or make that number on the scale lower. These are the things that you will treasure. The things that feed your soul, bring peace to your mind. Connecting with people that matter, knowing your family better than you know your coworkers, hearing stories of the past from your grandparents, and dreams of the future from your children – these are the things that improve quality of life. That creates quality of life. Slow down, sit, relax, listen, enjoy.
We must work, of course. We must make a living, of course. And if you must use the word ‘busy’ use it only when you repeat your new mantra: “Never be so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”