by Robert Walker, Program Director at ‘Ekahi Ornish Lifestyle Medicine
Content adapted from Ornish Living Magazine, Available online at www.ornishliving.com
In 2015, Americans worked 1779 hours per person – making us 7th on the list of hardest working countries. On average, that’s a little over 8 hours per day. Honolulu with it’s laid-back atmosphere and sandy beaches wasn’t necessarily exempt from this trend either – it’s one of the earliest rising cities in America, with the average worker arriving to work at 7:29 AM. Americans work hard – but are we working efficiently?
“You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day — unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.” -Zen proverb
This often-repeated quote seems contradictory at first. In a world of hectic schedules and tight deadlines, the last thing we need is to spend an hour doing nothing at all. Why spend more time meditating when we’re busy, and less time when we’re not?
In fact, it’s precisely because we’re so busy that we need to take some time to rest. The workday may be 8 hours long, but humans are bad at doing anything for 8 hours straight. We start to lose focus, our attention span starts to shrink, and we lack the energy to find creative solutions. If you’ve ever taken a long vacation, you might’ve noticed that things at work seem fresher, or you may have new eyes for a project you’ve been working on. You may even notice this feeling when you take a walk, or spend time with your friends and family. When we’re relaxed and happy, we’re more efficient and effective.
If we take a look at the list of countries by productivity, we see an interesting trend emerge. America is indeed one of the most productive countries in the world based on our GDP per hour worked. But we’re surrounded on this list by countries such as Norway, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands – countries where hours worked were considerably fewer. On the contrary, nations that worked even longer hours than us had reduced productivity – hinting that perhaps longer hours have a diminished effect on our productivity at work.
In Michael Moore’s recent documentary “Where to Invade Next”, he visits Finnish schools – a country recognized as having some of the most productive and intelligent children in the world. Moore discovered that Finnish students had considerably longer breaks during the day, shorter overall days, and little to no homework. An Australian study showed that these results were mirrored in other countries – in places where more time was spent on homework, students scored lower on standardized tests. Even in children, cognitive ability seems to be closely correlated with adequate time allocated for rest and rejuvenation.
So rather than saying “I don’t have time to take a break and rest or I don’t have time to do meditation,” what if you said “I don’t have time not to?” The practices of relaxation and meditation may require an hour or more of your time each day but what they give you in return is a gift beyond measure.
‘Ekahi Health, a member of the ‘ike family of companies (www.ikehawaii.com), is an innovative healthcare delivery organization that provides comprehensive community-based care focusing on primary care and prevention and wellness. It was the first organization to offer the Ornish program to the people of Hawaii.