By definition, relaxation is a state in which one is free from tension or anxiety. Hearing that, it sounds like relaxation is some kind of physics term that gets thrown around when people are constructing bridges and wearing hard hats. But no, relaxation is whatever you do that soothes your soul and makes you happy. I love to tend my garden and read books (just polished off Dan Brown’s Inferno, so dope). But that’s just me, what do you do to relax? Watch Netflix? Enjoy leisurely strolls? Knit ornate scarves for your cats? People like to relax in a variety of ways and that’s all good, but what isn’t all good is how much purpose and work twenty-somethings put into that relaxation. Is it really relaxing if you have to work to do it?
Let’s take a look at our current favorite form of relaxation: browsing the internet. Chances are that if you’re reading this article you probably spend a gargantuan amount of time just surfing ye olde’ interwebs. Reddit, Facebook, Thought Catalog, Medium, Twitter, YouTube, Huffington Post, Drudge, Buzzfeed… the list goes on and on, and that’s before you’ve even opened your inbox. Thanks to the power of the internet, there is always more. Even if you do attempt to keep tabs on the endless avalanche of new and information out there, the chances of you finishing any piece of reading are slim. There’s just no winning.
And that’s the problem, right? This notion that our leisure time activities can be done better. Forget the grass on the other side being greener; the other side isn’t just better quality grass anymore, but also the coolest must-have solar powered hot tubs, the choicest craft beers imported from the mountains of Vermont, and organic free-range psychologically stable grass-fed cows. There is always more and there is always better and unlike the past we know it’s out there. We just have to get to it.
But why do we feel the need to augment our favorite relaxation activities? Part of it is that it feels good to be considered a master. If you are the guy who friends consult about where to go in Southeast Asia, that’s a pretty cool, guru-status role to have. But the other part is the rising trend to ascribe a purpose to every activity we perform. Oh, you’re playing in a community soccer league? Why just improve your fitness when you can also score some digits? You don’t travel to explore, you travel to visit one of the 1000 Places to See Before You Die. Gone are the days where you just do things for the sake of doing them. Now we need reasons for every action, and if that reason doesn’t exist, be prepared to be labeled as “lazy.”
It doesn’t help that there are entire businesses built around putting purpose, structure, and reward (aka judgment) systems to the everything from our greatest joys to our guiltiest of pleasures. You like getting fucked up and eating greasy meat-lovers pizza? Why not compete to become the mayor of your local pizza joint on Foursquare! You’ve beaten 50 video games? Great, you now have 15 meaningless virtual trophies. You completed your first 5k? Now join us for the next 10K (which we’ll remind you about with regular email notifications).
Sometimes people do need a little push, even to unwind. After all, it’s easier to go skydiving when you’re strapped to somebody else. But sometimes people just need to live free of the desire for a crisper relaxation and the prescribed purpose of the event. You just need to find a place free of tension and absolved of anxiety. But can we relax enough to truly enjoy our relaxation?