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Jewish World Review July 12, 2001 / 21 Tamuz, 5761

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart
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Consumer Reports

Doing nothing can be stressful -- NOW they tell me. You know that famous maxim "early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise"? Forget it. That man would be a lot better off if he just slept late in the morning, lazed around the rest of the day, and capped it all off with an afternoon nap before bedtime.

At least that's the finding of Peter Axt, a researcher with the Fulda University of Applied Sciences in Germany. He recently announced the results of a study that said "aimless sloth" is the way to live a very long, happy and relaxed life. He says we are born with only a certain amount of energy. So keep it in reserve by sleeping late, lying around, and "ignoring the garbage until it builds its own eco-system." Axt claims "research shows that people who run long distances into their 50s are using up energy they need for other purposes. They suffer memory loss. They risk premature senility."

Axt is the author of "Just Stay Young" and "Eat Yourself Slim." His newly published study is on "The Joy of Laziness."

I could love this thinking - if it didn't make me so stressed. As the Washington Times put it, Axt "pities virtuous joggers, frantic workaholics, determined dieters. The tidiers, the cleaners, the fussers, the preeners - they are only running toward an early demise."

Well, I'm certainly not a frantic jogger or workaholic - but I'm the ultimate tidier, cleaner, fusser and preener. I always have a long "to do" list, and I almost never have a moment, particularly on a weekday when I think - gee, I just don't have anything to do right now - guess I'll practice some sloth.

I mean I have four kids including a new baby. That makes me the uber-fusser. So what am I supposed to do with this information now? Twenty years ago I could have really gone places with it. I could have let my whole life go to pot while I relaxed. But now I find that after all those years being committed to constant activity, or feeling guilty if I wasn't constantly active, it would be too debilitating to throttle back and think that maybe it was all for naught anyway.

Axt's philosophy is "waste half your free time. Just enjoy lazing around." Of course, that presupposes certain amounts of free time to begin with. And who has much of that these days, especially with little ones. I have a life to live here. Doing "nothing" is not an option.

Axt might suggest that we look at the happy people of Spain or Italy, with their slower paces, regular siestas and more easy going lifestyles as an example of what we Americans should strive for. I can't help but think "OK., that's fine and all - but that's why they are Spain and Italy and we're America" - good luck getting a plumber out at 9:00 on a Sunday night in those countries. (I know, it doesn't really happen here, either, but at least it seems like something o

f a possibility.) So maybe we are a little hyper in this country. Maybe my husband and I in particular are maximum "type-A" personalities. That just makes this new advice to "slow-down" that much harder to take.

I recently saw an old episode of the Andy Griffith Show. A businessman passing through Mayberry on a Sunday morning finds his car has broken-down. But because it's Sunday in the sleepy little town, no one will fix it, or move much at all for that matter. The fellow ends up at Sheriff Taylor's house for the afternoon, going completely nuts, as the little group there can barely get up the energy to walk into town for a soda. By the end of the show, of course, the fellow has been won over to this lazy interlude, and is thrilled to be just relaxing and doing nothing with the Mayberry clan.

I wasn't won over at all. I continued to go crazy on behalf of the businessman long after he had chilled out.

The fact is, I guess some of us just relax by "doing." Some of us would find giving up on the, pushing, running, chasing, perfecting, etc. a little, well, stressful. Thankfully, Mr. Axt's views are not very widely held. Still, his findings have given me one more thing to worry about: the irony of the idea that I might, just might, live a shorter life because of all my activity, and for that reason never get my infernal, ever-present "to-do" list truly done.

JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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© 2001, Scripps Howard News Service