"A vacation is what you take when you can no longer take what you've been taking."
The place to improve the world is first in one's own heart and head and hands.
–Robert M. Pirsig
As those of you who took the Mother's Day Happiness Challenge know, I have been obsessed for the last month or so with busyness. Feeling like I have more to do than I can actually accomplish is such a happiness killer. On the heels of my book tour and launch of my private practice, and on the eve of a family move, I'm feeling stretched too thin. In quiet moments I hear my own voice saying to me: I'm exhausted, I'm tired—again and again, like a mantra. It's like my brain is saying, SERIOUSLY, lady. You gotta lie down.
Clearly, it's time for me to start taking my own advice. So this summer I'm going to slow WAY down and offer my version of summer re-runs: I'll be reviewing what I've been advocating on this blog and in my book and focus on applying it to my own life. Each week, as part of my "Walking the Talk" series, I'll tell you what I'm working on to be a better mother and happier person. This month, I'm going to focus on putting my own oxygen mask on first and really commit to my own Happiness Challenge.
So how am I going to do that? To start, I'm going to take Jon Kabat-Zinn's advice and seriously limit my use of technology.
I'm going to be taking a lot of vacation this summer—sometimes to relax, sometimes to focus on my family's move and the work that needs to be done on our new house. Instead of being totally unplugged when I'm on vacation and totally plugged in when I'm home and at work, I'm going to attempt to reach some balance in both places.
I'll respond to blog comments, emails, and voicemails only once a day, and only Monday-Friday. That means that I'm going to stop having my email pushed to my phone (gasp!). I never really accomplish anything trying to type an email response on my phone, but I do collect a lot of little things to worry about, even if it is just new emails that need responding to.
I'm also going to do something once a day without having my cell phone. Currently, I don't do anything without my phone; my office phone forwards to my cell, and so if you need to get a hold of me, you can do so pretty much at anytime (provided that I'm not already on the phone). It might sound absurd to those of you with more balanced lives, but I'm going to actually leave my phone in the car when I'm meeting a friend for lunch or taking the kids to the park or going for a hike.
The idea is that disconnecting with technology will enable me to reconnect with who I really am, what is truly important to me, and what really makes me happy. I take to heart all the new research on "neuroplasticity," which shows that the structure of our brains can change over time: As we change or deepen our focus on some things rather than others, certain neural connections get formed or strengthened while other connections die.
Technology can be addictive, and it can change the core of who we are as people. As Tara Parker-Pope wrote recently in The New York Times, "Experts believe excessive use of the Internet, cellphones and other technologies can cause us to become more impatient, impulsive, forgetful and even more narcissistic." These qualities do not make us happier people or better parents.
If you are going to join me in this experiment, I'd love to hear how it is going. (Perhaps you'd like to take your own Mother's Day or Father's Day Happiness Challenge!) What strategies work for you? What obstacles have you faced, and how can you overcome them?
Christine Carter, Ph.D., is a sociologist and happiness expert at UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center, whose mission it is to teach skills for a thriving, resilient and compassionate society. Best known for her science-based parenting advice, Dr. Carter follows the scientific literature in neuroscience, sociology, and psychology to understand ways that we can teach children skills for happiness, emotional intelligence, and resilience. She is the author of the new book Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents and of a blog called Raising Happiness. Dr. Carter also has a private consulting practice helping families and schools structure children's lives for happiness; she lives near San Francisco with her family.