How to Fall in Love with Life Again: Escaping our Laziness for the World of Values6:00:00 AMHannah Bruckner
The summer season is a time of so much beauty. In Northwest Ohio, everything is a lush green. When the pollen isn’t busy irritating your eyes, you can clearly see nature at the pinnacle of its development. The tiny buds on the trees and plants springing up from the ground have become fully developed leaves and blossoms, hailing the coming of humidity and heat. Have you ever noticed that lovely shade of green when the sunshine is penetrating a leaf? It becomes the warmest, lightest shade of green that is particular to the summer.
Surrounded by so much beauty, so much color, why do I often find my zeal for life decaying before my very eyes? Sometimes I find life slipping into the color grey. I let it happen. School gets out for the summer, I lose my drive and my focus, and I sign up for a free trial of Netflix (which I don’t recommend if you’re seeking to be productive or fun/social). When I come home for the summer, I find that I have a strange tendency to stop living. I stop feeding my intellect, stop making time to enjoy the “little things” that bring me delight, all for the sake of relaxing. Of course, I am a huge proponent of enjoying quality leisure. Amidst the hustle and bustle of modernity, leisure is a simple way to stay grounded in what is beautiful and enjoyable in life. But too much “leisure” can lead to laziness, and laziness so often leads to unhappiness.
Here, it becomes necessary to distinguish between true leisure, and when what we may like to call “leisure” has slipped into lethargy. For other German Catholic thinkers like Hildebrand, such as Josef Pieper, leisure is esteemed as being one of the foundational elements of culture and civilization (Leisure, 1). This (perhaps surprising) concept is not new. Thinkers as early as Aristotle commonly held leisure in a place of importance in daily life, as he points out in the first chapter of his Metaphysics. But what is leisure? It is so far removed from our modern notion of “leisure,” which usually implies multiple forms of binging (food, drink, television) in your sweatpants all day. True leisure in Aristotle’s and Pieper’s sense of the word is more closely compared to the Christian concept of the contemplative life (Leisure, 2). With contemplation being the nearest equivalent to leisure, one can see that there is a sort of intentional, hyper-awareness of the value sphere and the types of importance (so often hailed by Hildebrand) entailed by enjoying leisure. Leisure is not “Netflix and chill.” It is: “how can I appropriately savor the beauty of this moment, of this day, of this life?”
But, more often than not, I neglect true leisure and opt for mere laziness – too much laziness.
Human persons are designed for purpose. We are goal-oriented. Speaking from my own perspective, whenever I find myself losing sight of any larger meaning or purpose for the things that I am doing, I start to feel a little…lost – as if I have become completely disoriented as to any sense of direction. The engine stalls. I find myself at a stand still.
It is during these “stand stills” that I often find myself slipping into a numbing laziness rather than redirecting my energies towards something new. Think about your own life – isn’t this true for so many of us? When was the last time you did something for the first time? Tried something new? When was the last time you allowed yourself to be truly affected by something; moved by a beautiful piece of music that you’ve never heard before, or struck by the scenic overlook in the midst of a hike? Hopefully, unlike me, you can say that you’ve experienced these things rather recently. If not, I would like to suggest that perhaps we need to look at the heart of the issue. Why do we so often fall into these mindless slumbers?
Our ability to be affected or impressed by something is both a blessing and a profound challenge. As Dietrich von Hildebrand poses for us, “through this channel come seduction, moral poisoning, blunting, narrowing, and cramping, as well as moral elevation, purification, enrichment, widening and liberation” (Life Guide, 16). There is a whole world of value and enriching beauty to be grasped by the human person. This life leaves its mark on us. If we cut ourselves off from new experiences or encounters with the world of values (or worse – if we allow ourselves to be affected by things that degrade the realm of values), then can we really say that we’re living? We begin to give way to our unruly passions in an attempt to feel something since we are no longer being affected by noble things. We lock ourselves in these closets where the rays of the sun cannot reach us.
We live as though it’s bitter winter in the midst of golden summer.
Once we snap out of the Netflix-binging, Pinterest-obsessing, sleep-craving haze, how does one begin to fall in love with life again? I think that the profound moment of change comes when one realizes that the world of values demands a response from us. This gives us purpose; this presents to us a meaning; this restores our zeal for experiencing life.
Taking this a step further, Hildebrand explains how this not only helps us to live life richly, but how to experience true freedom as a result. Rather than becoming enslaved to the shades of grey we are tempted to surround ourselves with, we can be made aware of “the cooperative role of man’s freedom with respect to being affected. We can abandon ourselves to this experience, we can open our soul in its very depth, we can expose our soul to the action of the value; or we can close ourselves…we can counteract it” (21).
Life as experienced by the human person is constantly presenting us with these choices. We can allow life (or value, more specifically) to touch us and affect us deeply, or we can counteract it but numbing ourselves through laziness and lethargy. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of “counteracting” my own happiness.
The world is full of color.
And I'm so done with grey.