I wrote this essay for the New York Time’s student editorial contest. The guidelines were to write 450 words or less that about an opinion you have. Yesterday was the last day (and also the day I submitted mine), but if you’re interested in future similar things, here’s a calendar of them.
The Modern-day Magic Elixir
College applications subliminally demand both the hare’s breakneck speed and the tortoise’s constant pace, an ideal that is unattainable and, dare I say, ultimately destructive. Well meaning students drop extracurriculars and athletics in favor of higher GPA classes. Weekends, breaks, and summers–time intended as space to slow down–fill with more activities. People regularly answer the question, “How are you?”, with tired, stressed, or c, all of the above.
Busy has become the default setting for our society. Instead of the elixir of immortality adventurers of old searched for, we now yearn for a magic potion that will grant us a neverending fount of energy to keep up with our frenzied schedules. As individuals, we have either consciously or subconsciously bought into the sentiment that any time not spent on work is unproductive, and therefore, wasted. However, the experts beg to differ: rest produces considerably better results than nonstop labor.
Work requires concentration, but according to attention restoration theory (ART), the energy it takes to focus is a limited resource. To compare how different activities impacted the brain’s ability to concentrate, psychologists in a 2008 study had one group spend time in nature while the other one walked around a busy city. While the second group had to negotiate the constant flow of people and cars, the first group was free to think about anything they wanted. Afterwards, they both completed an attention-demanding exercise, and no surprise, the nature group did twenty percent better. Because those participants took a break from concentrating on something specific, they increased their capacity to do so later.
Not only does slowing down help you mentally, it also improves your chances of living a longer life. A collaborative study between Dan Buettner and National Geographic found five geographical areas around the globe with the highest concentrations of people living to and over one hundred years old. What was the secret “elixir” of life for these centenarians? After intense study by people in a variety of fields, nine traits, called the Power 9, emerged as common traits in all five areas. Number three on the list was “Down Shift,” which the study defined as taking part in routines that decrease stress–in other words, rest.
Nevertheless, the education system only mirrors what we choose to value. It is not the villain; we cannot wait for it to be the hero either. The elixir of immortality remains what it was thousands of years ago: a myth. We have realized that to live is to accept the boundaries of our physical bodies, but now we must also accept the limitations of our minds. It might just improve our work and prolong our lives.
What’s an opinion you would want to write or read about?
Do you have trouble with rest?How do you rest?
P.P.S. The image is by Morgan Harper Nichols.