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 a stark red flag. 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
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.