These unfamiliar stay at home orders pull the “Always Keep Moving” rug out from underneath us, and it’s revealing more than our floors. Over the last several decades, we have normalized an immense lack of patience during our everyday lives. Our eagerness doesn’t perpetually stem from ignorance, however. It’s from being systemically conditioned to view boredom, or waiting around, as stark red flags. If that work call is a few minutes too late, we immediately view waiting for it as a waste of time. If a person of interest takes too long to get back to us, we dismiss them as rude; if they finally do get back to us, we question whether we want to keep a person like that around in the first place. To make lemonade out of lemons, it’s a great time to identify the unhealthy habits that accompanied our “go, go, go” lives before the shut down.
With shops closing at unadvertised hours, and certain storefronts remaining closed altogether, it’s difficult to maintain a lifestyle that involves spontaneity, immediate solutions, and benign procrastination. Par exemple, in an attempt to mount my television, I purchased a stud finder -- only to discover that the nine volt battery was not included. What should have been a thoughtless late night run to the corner store became an hour and half long hunt for a shop with its lights on.
Online buyers and grocery shoppers who have turned to companies like Yummy or Amazon Fresh during quarantine have also found similarly unprecedented queues. Due to high demand, many standard products become unavailable within minutes, and their fast shipping guarantees are now accompanied by a COVID-19 apology, just in case orders arrive significantly late. It makes romanticizing about January a very enticing exercise.
Although wishing for a return to the “normal world” is a common and understandable reaction, our luxuries before the pandemic were not as normal as we’d like to think. In other countries, let alone other states, store hours vary widely. Many European countries shut down their stores as early as 8:00PM as a rule. Although it’s common to see American stores close at 7:00PM or even 6:00PM, it wasn’t unusual for places to regularly close as late as midnight. Our anomalously convenient shopping hours served a purpose: they appealed to a wide variety of schedules, from the cramming undergraduate to the early morning fitness trainer -- and alas, the American dream was born. But a major problem with our universality is that we rarely operate together, as a culture. This too easily explains the common international insult that’s often directed at the States: Ha! What culture?
A recent cultural thread that several American people can bond over during quarantine feeling less imprisoned by their schedules. Employees working from home saw downtime between tasks or calls as a chance to tidy up their space, or do other menial odd jobs that would typically consume a whole Sunday. Several friends, prone to spells of depression or anxiety, felt an oddly disorienting sense of calm. Younger people suffering from poor habits of comparing themselves to others were less likely to get bogged down since everyone was in the same boat for once. Of course, these are all generalizations. It’s less that select individuals had one of these experiences exclusively, and more that we’re all experiencing bits and pieces of these narratives at different times: it’s a mish-mosh of activities due to FaceTiming where you eat, and eating where you exercise, and exercising where you sleep, rather than being in one place for one particular thing at a time.
Americans seemed to be leading the culture of snap judgments and unnecessary hustling. Dutch cultures practice niksen, which encompasses doing nothing at all and embracing your unproductivity for a contained amount of time. Similarly, the Danish practice of hygge consists entirely of staying in, getting comfortable with those you love, and sealing yourself in from the outside world. In other words, involuntarily quarantining is not enough. These legitimate practices of checking out and savoring actions are all rooted in intentionally choosing to devote time and energy to relaxing or doing nothing. Allowing yourself time to daydream and fantasize about your career, future, or even friends and family (what they’re up to, events you’ll plan once gathering is permissible) is a great mental health boost. It also sharpens our creativity, so that when we’re being productive, we might surprise ourselves more than we think.
Although the idea of returning back to our fast, reliant pace is comforting, it’s refreshing to mine these unprecedented times for opportunities to grow: we must pick and choose what’s healthier for us, individually and collectively. That includes days where we feel nonstop, as well as days when we don’t feel like doing anything at all. Trust yourself, listen to your body, and allow yourself to feel things out. If you have enough of what you need in front of you, there’s no need to rush.