When I was growing up, my grandparents had a cabin in the Minnesota North Woods. I loved spending time there, on the edge of the wilderness, fishing in the summer and hunting in the fall. I often think back to the solitude of those early mornings, the glassy lake, deafening silence, and eerie curtains of mist hanging motionless in the cool air.
To me, there’s never been anything else quite like it.
In the off-season, the whole area cleared out. The population dropped by tens of thousands as vacationers went home. Those who stayed, natives robust enough to handle winter’s sub-zero temperatures, had the place to themselves.
One of those people was a man named Mike. He looked after people’s cabins during the off-season and did odd jobs as required, like rebuilding a dock for my grandparents one spring. I don’t think I ever actually spoke to Mike, but I remember what he looked like – and I realize now that he was somewhat of an enigma to me. With all my hopes and grandiose ideas, and despite my love of the outdoors, I couldn’t understand why Mike hung around up there all year long.
Didn’t he want to chase his dreams and forge a career in the big city?
Didn’t he want the chance to make some real money?
Today, I fight the hustle and bustle of one of America’s biggest cities every morning and afternoon. I have an impressive job, an office in a high rise building with my name on the door, a big, polished, hardwood desk, and a wonderful secretary twice my age that answers the phone and says, “Mr. Monson’s office.”
But I think Mike had something figured out.
And the Oscar goes to…
Last Sunday, millions of people tuned in to watch the Academy Awards, and Rachelle and I were no exception. As the limos started arriving, I was struck by how this singular event is so representative of Western culture: the beauty, glitz, glamour, high fashion, wealth, and power – all in celebration of golden statutes. Materialism and its trappings placed on the highest of pedestals.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, that Cadillac ELR commercial featuring Neal McDonough – the one that stirred up controversy after its Super Bowl premier – aired during the midst of the program. There’s a brashness about it that I like, but I hate the way it ends:
“As for all the stuff, that’s the upside of only taking two weeks off in August.”
Frankly, I think it fits perfectly with the Academy Awards as another shameless tribute to materialism. However, it’s somehow more ‘honest’ as it recognizes the sacrifices we’ve made on that alter by portraying the incessant, ‘harder, faster, longer, bigger, better’ demands of modern life.
Do you feel them?
Once in a while, I talk with someone who claims he or she doesn’t – but it’s almost always because these demands are so pervasive, the person has become acclimated to them. The same thing happens to us. It’s just like that familiar aphorism about putting lobsters (or frogs) in a pot of water and slowly bringing it to a boil. They don’t notice the water getting hotter, so they don’t bother to climb out…
I find that these demands lead to unrealistic expectations, dissatisfaction, frustration, mental and physical fatigue, and burnout. But the cultural messages and societal expectations continue, so we resolve to push harder, be more disciplined, and make things happen.
It’s a trap!
The problem is that there’s no way out. The monster called ‘more’ is insatiable and will never be satisfied! That’s why we talk about the one critical thing you must do before you become ‘successful.’
But let’s rewind a moment… Let’s go back to Mike.
What did Mike figure out, that I am just coming to realize?
It’s something that’s counter intuitive to many and maybe uncomfortable for some. However, it’s nonetheless true:
The quiet life is a gift.
Intentionality and satisfaction
Most people don’t consider a ‘quiet life’ to be a gift – we see people who live big, loud, exciting lives and long for flashier clothing, impressive titles, faster cars, bigger houses, and more exciting vacations.
Thousands of years ago, a King named Solomon – a man with all the ‘bling’ the world could provide – lamented its meaninglessness. One of the most important conclusions he drew was this:
“I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil – this is the gift of God”
– Ecclesiastes 3:12-13
As seems often the case, modern psychology is just now catching up with this age-old wisdom. A groundbreaking 1995 study by Allen Parducci, a behavioral psychologist at the University of California in Los Angeles, indicates that learning to be satisfied is a habit that happy people practice. According to Parducci, happy people are exposed to the same range and degree of experiences as unhappy people, but interpret these experiences differently:
- Happy people use a lower threshold to determine what constitutes a positive experience. Their unhappy counterparts have a higher threshold that can’t be attained for every experience.
- Unhappy people have concluded that the benchmark they have set is where happiness lies and anything below that benchmark renders them unhappy. This kind of perspective keeps them unhappy despite other positive things going on in their lives.
What’s this mean for us?
The gift of a quiet life is there for us – we just have to receive it.
As I’ve thought and journaled on this topic in the past few months, I’ve started to recognize times when I’ve set my ‘happiness threshold’ too high. The result has always been dissatisfaction. Further, each threshold I’ve recognized has been set arbitrarily and often based on my own insecurities or comparisons with those around me.
But I’ve also realized that I can change the threshold and embrace the quiet life – and that doing so often results in greater satisfaction. In the past month this has meant being okay with billing fewer hours and forgoing a bonus for a few evenings with Rachelle instead; enjoying sitting in the presence of friends, sipping tea, and silencing my inner to-do list; tuning in a local classical station and getting lost in a dynamic symphony instead of getting frustrated with traffic…
The list goes on.
If you’ve already received the gift of the quiet life, congratulations. You’ve learned something that I am just coming to appreciate. Please share the lessons you’ve learned in the comments below!
But if you’re like me and you have difficulty with the quiet life, don’t worry – it’s there for us. Embrace intentional living and increased mindfulness, and look for opportunities to embrace the quiet life this week. If my experience is any indication, you’ll enjoy unexpected peace, serenity, and satisfaction.
Leave a Comment: Have you received the gift of a quiet life – or is it something that you’ve undervalued or overlooked?