As children, we live closer to our instincts. Yes, there’s the humorous and rather unfortunate side to this – like the time you ate an entire bag of Twizzlers and threw up all over your great-aunt’s carpet. In addition to the plethora of bad decisions (as if adults don’t make those too), however, there’s the extravagant daring and that amazing, irrepressible exuberance.
As adults, we might know better than to gorge on dye #40, but we’re tripped up by other things. We become distanced, detached from our instincts. The responsibilities, the schedule, the expectations surrounding our culture’s take on maturity can cast us out of the land of exuberance. It’s like we get gradually diverted to a boring Interstate stretch after traveling the scenic route. The road is efficient, utilitarian and might have nicer rest stops, but it often feels like a major letdown. What does it take to find our way back to the panoramas? What are the things we never should’ve stopped doing in the first place? I hope you add your own to the list. Let me throw out a few I’ve been thinking of today.
The average American spends eight hours a month on Facebook, up from nearly six hours per month back in August 2010. As of 2009, the average young adult was spending virtually every waking hour with online access, either through their phones or their computers, and they were actively using them for two hours a day. Restaurants and bars and coffee shops across the world are littered with broken-neck zombies gazing into their smartphones. I’ve seen entire families out to dinner, each member’s attention fixated on an iPhone as they spoon food into mouth, pausing only to breathe and guzzle cola. I’ve seen young guys out at bars who, instead of checking out the women at the next table over or jabbering at each other with youthful exuberance, feel the need to tell everyone on their Facebook lists just how much fun they claim to be having. I’ve even caught myself lingering at the computer after work, doing nothing of import even as a gorgeous spring day ticks away into the ether of time right outside the window. Why? Just what the heck is our collective problem?
What would it take to be a highly successful hunter-gatherer? Brawn? Speed? And good aim? Stamina? Carving skills? A sharp eye or memory? Of course. But what about those less obvious attributes like creativity, empathy, intuition, even-temper, mettle, compassion, coolheadedness? After all, all the strength in the world won’t match a good weapon in many situations. A lone wolf will always be more vulnerable on the savanna than his connected counterparts. An easygoing perspective can make living with others easier. Equanimity keeps emotional responses in check and critical focus in the present. Grit can mean the difference between life and death. If the hard knocks of evolutionary history cultivated these kinds of pivotal traits in our ancestors, how do we reconnect with – and benefit from – them today? What better (and even fun) self-development project can there be, after all, than fostering the habits of highly successful hunter-gatherers?
If the earlier holidays of the season are more socially-driven, New Year’s is the more personal, the more private. Sure, there are the parties, the throngs in Times Square, and the general cycle of media hoopla surrounding New Year’s Eve, but the real crux of this annual event is contemplative. The party hats and noise makers have their heyday for a few hours (for some of us the hangover claims a few more). But the more insistent, pensive theme of the holiday is the part that lingers – first drifting into our psyches after the bigger festivities have cleared away and the guests have all gone home.
Well, the apocalypse never came. No earth-rending seismic activity rearranged geography. Nary a tsunami wrought despair and destruction on coastlines, nor did the turn of the calendar awaken an ancient, many-tentacled evil force hidden deep below. We experienced neither a global awakening of consciousness, a visit from the original extraterrestrial architects of our physiology, nor an explosion of eschatological novelty. What that means is two things: the prophets of 2012 got it wrong, and you have to plan for the rest of your life.
Let’s start with 2013. How are you going to make sure it’s a successful year? What steps will you take?
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