"In Praise of Wasting Time"
by Alan Lightman
2018, TED Books
$16.99 / $22.99 Canada
When was your last vacation? Think hard. When was the last time you turned off your phone for more than three hours, left your laptop at work, or put your briefcase in a closet for a week? If the answer starts with the word “Nineteen,” then you need to read In Praise of Wasting Time by Alan Lightman, pronto.
As psychologists know, we need downtime to regenerate and create. And yet—oh, the guilt when we disconnect. It even has a name: FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out. It affects most smart-phone-owning adults, and it shortens our attention spans; teens often “find it nearly impossible to be alone,” according to Lightman, because of that 24/7 connection they’ve always had available to them.
Part of the solution, says Lightman, is to use “divergent thinking: the ability to explore a problem in a spontaneous and nonorderly manner.” It’s that kind of problem-solving that works best when you’re thinking about something else.
Then, he says, let yourself get stuck; in fact, “we should welcome” it. Take a chance to mind-wander, to mosey along memories without a plan. See how long you can sit in a room, alone, without checking your email. And learn to embrace downtime. It’s the best way “to nourish the Self” and gain “necessary inner stability.” Right about now, you may be squirming. To read “Don’t Work” in a business book seems like madness, but hold up. In Praise of Wasting Time could have the work advice you need.
Lightman seems in no hurry to offer stories to boost his TED talk, making readers lean into the ideas that he espouses. The whole narrative is relaxing. There’s no drama or demand to this book, but it’s compelling nonetheless.