Navigating an Age of Anxiety
According to Dr. Karl Albrecht, current times are the “age of anxiety.” We constantly feel pressured, having to meet one deadline after another. Stress has been proven to be the number one killer in today’s world. It affects all of us, regardless of what language we speak or where we live. Let me tell you a story before I continue:
Once, there was a man from a small village…nothing extraordinary about him, he was just a common man. He peacefully slept under a tree. It was a picture-perfect scene: the temperature outside was just right, the sun was peeking through the loosely woven leaf curtain above; the tree provided much soothing shade and a soft breeze gently touched his cheek. A traveler from the big city happened to be passing by and saw him. Appalled to see this display of laziness in the middle of the day, he went straight to the villager and kicked him awake.
“Hey you, wake up!” he shouted.
The villager was confused. “Who, me?” he asked.
“Yea, you! Wake up!” yelled the traveler.
“Why? What’s the matter?” asked the villager.
“Why aren’t you working?”
“Why would I be working?”
“So that you can make money,” replied the city fellow.
“And then what?” questioned the villager.
“Then you make even more money, of course,” yelled the traveler as he was beginning to get impatient.
“And after that?”
“Once you have enough money, you can start a business.”
“How will starting a business help me?” wondered the local.
“Owning a business will bring you prestige, obviously.” said the traveler.
“And why would I want prestige?”
“If you have money, a business, and prestige, then you will find a beautiful wife,” predicted the traveler.
“And then what?” pushed the villager.
“If you have money, a successful business, prestige, and a wife, then you can buy a big house.”
“Why do I need a big house?”
The traveler replied with great satisfaction: “If you have money, a successful business, prestige, a wife, and a nice home, then you can easily sleep in the home and feel very secure.”
The villager, who had been sleeping earlier, stopped to think for a moment. Then, he candidly said: “Sir, that’s exactly what I was doing before you decided to kick me awake.”
Why should the villager have to go through that entire cycle to get peace when he already had it? And why would the traveler feel it had to be otherwise? The truth is that we are products of this fast-paced society. From a young age, we understand that to be an adult is to be busy. Most of us have little voices inside our heads telling us we have to be doing something, all the time. There is a traveler just like the one in the story constantly poking at our minds, demanding that we be doing something, anything. We either get bored or feel like we are wasting time sleeping under a tree, like the villager.
Additionally, the modern world is filled with expensive attractions at every step. Consuming is a large part of our lives, and being able to consume everything we like is a stress-generating issue - some would even call it a question of quality of life. We feel we have to be productive, by making and spending as much money as we possibly can. Just like in the story, in our minds, money ultimately translates to security, and that is what we long for. We go through life worrying about this or that, trying hard to earn money and prestige, and it’s tearing us to pieces.
Stress slowly seeps into every aspect of our lives: nutrition, relationships, work, etc. It can even prevent us from sleeping...and sleep is one of the simplest human activities ever. We must learn to effectively manage our stress, or it can destroy us.
Ultimately, I think we can do this by aiming to step into the shoes of the villager under the tree. Like him, we should take some breaks, reflect, and enjoy the peace that is right in front of us. This will restore our energy levels and allow us to see the world in a different perspective. While it is important to have goals and dreams, do not feel that you must achieve every single one of those objectives before you can attain tranquility. Be wise, do your best, and make the most of the journey. If you waste all your energy before you even reach your goals, will you enjoy it the same?
Make it a point not to get swept away in the currents of this fast-paced society. Work hard towards your visions, but take some time to discover the peace that already exists in front of you.