As I walked through the park the other day with a friend, I marveled at the many colors of tan, russet, and yellow of the changing leaves. The end of fall has a palette all its own...subtle, muted, hinting of winter.
My friend seemed oblivious to our surroundings and rambled on about his misadventures in the stock market that week.
I didn't chide him. I felt sad for him. The missing-out-on-life sadness epitomized by
Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle" in which the father is too busy to have time for his growing son, and years later the son is too busy to have time for his aging father.
It starts with:
"My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay..."
and ends with a sad tug at the heartstrings:
"I've long since retired, and my son's moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, 'I'd like to see you if you don't mind.'
He said, 'I'd love to, dad, if I could find the time...'"
As a teacher once said to me, "life isn't a rehearsal. It's the event." If you spend it worrying about your portfolio to the exclusion of appreciating your surroundings and the people you love, you'll have squandered un-recoverable moments.
The Urban Dictionary defines "slow down and smell the roses" as an admonition to stop stressing out, overthinking, or complaining. Put your troubles in perspective and try to enjoy the short time you have on earth.
The Wiktionary defines it as taking time out of one's busy schedule to appreciate the beauty of life.
I define it as a mindfulness that lets you step out of your immediate concerns and relish the moment, whether the people or the place or both.
This time of the year places extra stress on many of us. We worry about finding the right gift for everyone on our list, and getting our shopping done in time. Our calendar, which was already full, becomes bulging with office parties and other social events. Our budgets become stretched ...sometimes uncomfortably so...by the cost of all the gift-giving and frivolity. And this is on top of the ongoing workplace stress that's alive and well in our culture. That stress contributes to at least 120,000 deaths each year and accounts for up to $190 billion in health care costs, according to research by two Stanford professors and a former Stanford doctoral student now at Harvard Business School.
"Lots of research shows that your tendency to overeat, overdrink, and take drugs are affected by your workplace," notes Jeffrey Pfeffer, one of the authors of the study. "When people like their lives, and that includes work life, they will do a better job of taking care of themselves. When they don't like their lives, they don't."
Stefanos Zenios, another author, expanded on the health consequences of workplace stress, especially in highly-demanding jobs. "The deaths are comparable to the fourth- and fifth-largest causes of death in the country -- heart disease and accidents. It's more than deaths from diabetes, Alzheimer's, or influenza."
Whether you think of "stopping to smell the roses" as a metaphor, or an actual act, the benefit is the same. Slow down and appreciate your environment is the message. It could add years to your life.