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(For reading in Chinese, please scroll down to the end of the English text.)

(For international readers, allow me to explain: I am an American but I have lived in China since 2004. My city of Chongqing, often abbreviated as CQ, is pronounced Chong Ching to rhyme with Wrong Ring. CQ is a megacity of 30 million people in south-central China, on the Yangtze River.)

July 2020

From the 18th-floor homestead

A popular topic these days is speculation about the duration and the extent of the damage of the pandemic. However, perhaps an equally important topic for examination should be what your ideal post-pandemic life should look like. I don’t mean the “new normal” public behaviors; I am referring to your personal lifestyle choices. This pandemic was unexpected and the ultimate number of deaths and the accompanying economic destruction are, at this point, incalculable. However, we can use this situation as a golden opportunity to consciously design a better, more sustainable version of The Good Life.

Below is an excerpt from an article published a few months ago – so recent yet so distant. How many of those ideas and proposals still resonate today? How have your ideas changed because of recent events?

Photo by Spring

(November 2019)

Everyone wants to live a good life. But, when we begin to describe just what constitutes that “Good Life” (when capitalized), we quickly get entangled in vague generalities and highly subjective terminology. Specifically, almost everyone who is living above the poverty level would agree that a Good Life begins with a safe, comfortable environment, then adds their personal mix of the elements that constitute a high Standard of Living and a superior Quality of Life. (My own version involves a view outside my window of a warm, golden tropical beach – tropical flowers, tropical fruits, tropical breezes, tropical girls, etc.)

To begin my reflections on this subject, I want to introduce a short conversation from a famous book, Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study In Scarlet, in which the world was introduced to Sherlock Holmes. The relationship between the two characters, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson, has been called the most famous friendship in literature. In this exchange from A Study in Scarlet, the two characters have just met and are considering sharing a flat at, that’s right, 221B Baker Street. Before reaching a final agreement, Watson insists that they should each disclose any personal weaknesses and failings that might irritate a roommate. Holmes mentions some of the characteristics that later made him such a fascinating character and Watson reciprocates. “I keep a bullpup and I object to rows because my nerves are shaken and I get up at all sorts of ungodly hours and I am extremely lazy.” The two characters decided to become roommates and the literary world is richer for it.

But to return to this article’s topic…

“I am extremely lazy,” Watson said. What’s wrong with being lazy? This is exactly what I wish to explore here, especially in light of my own perpetual busyness. Like many people today, I have always idealized the busy person, the person who gets up earlier than others, the hard-charging leader, the person who works “smarter, faster, better” as Charles Duhigg puts it in his book of the same name. Indeed, in our modern lexicon, “success” is more synonymous with the result of that work (money) than with mastery.

We speak in glowing terms of people who are eternally busy, filling up every waking moment with something “productive”. We are admonished to use the little windows of time sprinkled throughout our days as opportunities for increased productivity and of furthering our education by making our cars, buses, trains, and planes into “rolling universities”. There is a huge industry devoted to educating us on how to make tiny, incremental changes to become more efficient, more productive.

I am not exempt. For example, I have long had the habit of carrying a Kindle with me everywhere I go… in case I am stuck somewhere for five minutes. Borrowing a phrase from an ancient American Express card advertisement, I “don’t leave home without it.” Recently, thanks to the wonders of Bluetooth headphones, I have also begun listening to educational podcasts whenever I am walking or riding public transportation to further ensure that no moment of my day is “wasted”. Our technology now allows us to literally fill every second of our waking hours.

Yet, as I strived to occupy every moment of my day with something meaningful and valuable, I found that it wasn’t making me happy. Was I irredeemably flawed, unable to focus long enough to make myself a master of something – and, by implication, become a happy, self-actualized (i.e., rich) person?

Upon reflection, I find this compulsion to be sad. On deeper examination, I find myself unable to justify it. What’s so wrong with Watson being “extremely lazy”? Why is that phrase such a damning description? It certainly didn’t make me happy to feel it was necessary to fill every moment with some kind of work. Actually, it has the opposite effect. As I create pressure to cram some meaningful, carefully chosen activity into every minute, I often feel guilty that I failed to discipline myself to achieve that unattainable 100% efficiency. But I also feel resentful that I never had time for relaxing and doing nothing more “productive” than watching an old movie, listening to music, spending irreplaceable family time with my young son, baking something that would fill the house with wonderful aromas, or just reading more Sherlock Holmes stories.

The conclusion I finally reached and which seems to be the proper balance (for me, anyway) is a blend of thoughtfully planned productivity and guilt-free spontaneity. I still have my regular routines, the urgent/important activities on my calendar each day, and my highest ROI projects – currently, self-publishing my book. But, after I finish my each day’s essentials and consider the activities I will pursue during any discretionary time for the remainder of the day, I now interspace those tasks with what I call my Watson activities – whatever I damn well wish to do.

And I am happier for this division of my time between focused, meaningful work and guilt-free, unplanned activities which includes but is not limited to unabashed relaxation. For I, like John Watson, find my nature to be “extremely lazy”.

Photo by Spring

(Back to July 2020 and the 18th-floor homestead)

I certainly envy people with money to purchase almost anything they want. Yes, and I confess to experiencing sensations of pure avarice when I encounter some of the more refined and exquisite material possessions and experiences in life. However, age and reflection have convinced me that success in terms of mere money is not enough. Raising my Standard of Living must be tempered with improving my Quality of Life. As one wag put it, despite unrelenting efforts, “Your inbox will be filled the day you die.” Working until we complete everything which we have on our written plans for the day and week is probably an impossible dream for most people anyway, especially if our activities involve depending on the cooperation and efforts of other people. Maybe a more efficient way – and, probably, a smarter way – would be to plan our days with specific limits to the amount of time we will devote to achieving various objectives that day. Then, when we have reached that time limit, the amount of time we ourselves selected, the remainder of the day can be enjoyed without guilt or stress.

We followed our plan; now, we can enjoy some time off. That would include the freedom to engage in pure sloth if we wish. But it could also mean being busy but not following a carefully crafted plan. I watch my son, age 7, at play. He has no plan; he just plays at whatever gets and holds his attention for a brief time. My son is certainly happier than me with my compulsions. Maybe I can learn from him. Maybe the best use of my day – after I finish working on my various projects – would be unplanned, unstructured activities, i.e., whatever catches my eye under the current circumstances. As Gordon MacQuarrie wrote in his classic short story Nothing To Do For Three Weeks, “I used every day for what it is best suited. Can anyone do better?” Using Mac’s wonderful imagery as a standard, ask yourself if you are using each day – and each portion of the day – for what it is best suited? Or, are you sacrificing Quality of Life for a tiny increment of a higher Standard of Living?

What is your vision of a Good Life ? Are you taking steps to get there? In your plan, are you also taking steps to ensure a Quality of Life that does not depend upon first achieving a certain Standard of Living? Are you seeking a more peaceful life right now, today? We have learned from the pandemic experience that there may not be a tomorrow so we should enjoy today. In addition to filling each day with meaningful work for a better tomorrow, don’t forget that, sometimes, the most suitable use of a day is relaxation and spontaneity. Today, after I get my more serious work completed, I think Chester and I will bake some biscuits and hang the new shower curtain. With his bumbling seven-year-old assistance, it usually takes a little longer than working alone but the father-son time for bonding is priceless. Can you think of a better use of my time?

P.S. In that quote, Watson said, “I keep a bullpup and I object to rows because my nerves are shaken and I get up at all sorts of ungodly hours and I am extremely lazy.”  Whatever happened to that bullpup?

Photo by Spring

大流行病改变了你对美好生活的看法吗?

应该有。

2020年7月

从18楼的宅基地

最近一个流行的话题是对大流行病的持续时间和损害程度的猜测。然而,也许一个同样重要的考察话题应该是你理想中的大流行后生活应该是什么样的。我不是指 “新常态 “的公共行为,我指的是你个人的生活方式选择。这场大流行是出乎意料的,最终的死亡人数和随之而来的经济破坏,在目前来看,是无法估量的。然而,我们可以利用这种情况作为一个黄金机会,有意识地设计一个更好的、更可持续的 “美好生活 “版本。

以下是几个月前发表的一篇文章的节选–如此近期却又如此遥远。这些想法和建议有多少在今天还能引起共鸣?你的想法因为最近发生的事件有什么变化?

*********************************

(2019年11月)

每个人都想过上好日子。但是,当我们开始描述什么是 “美好生活”时,我们很快就会陷入模糊的笼统和高度主观的术语中。具体来说,几乎每个生活在贫困线以上的人都会同意,”美好生活 “始于安全、舒适的环境,然后再加上他们个人的元素组合,构成高标准的生活和卓越的生活质量。(我自己的想法是,在我的窗外有一片温暖、金色的热带海滩–热带鲜花、热带水果、热带微风、热带女孩等等。)

在开始我对这个问题的思考时,我想引入一段阿瑟-柯南-道尔的《血字的研究》中的一段简短对话,在这段对话中,世人认识了夏洛克-福尔摩斯。夏洛克-福尔摩斯和约翰-华生医生这两个人物之间的关系,被称为文学作品中最著名的友谊。在《血字的研究》中的这段交流中,两个人物刚刚见面,就考虑合租一套公寓,没错,就是贝克街221B号。在达成最后的协议之前,华生坚持认为他们应该各自披露任何可能刺激室友的个人弱点和失败。福尔摩斯提到了一些后来使他成为如此迷人角色的特点,华生也给予了回应。”我养了一只斗牛犬,我反对排队,因为我的神经会受到震动,我在各种不正常的时间起床,我非常懒惰。” 两个人物决定成为室友,文坛也因此变得更加丰富。

但回到本文的主题…

“我非常懒。”华生说。懒惰有什么不好?这正是我在这里想探讨的问题,尤其是针对我自己永远的忙碌。和今天的许多人一样,我总是把忙碌的人理想化,比别人起得更早的人,勤奋的领导者,像查尔斯-杜希格在他的同名书籍中所说的那样,”更聪明、更快、更好 “地工作。事实上,在我们的现代词汇中,”成功 “更多的是指该工作的结果(金钱),而不是掌握的同义词。

我们津津乐道于那些永远忙忙碌碌的人,用一些 “有成效 “的事情来填满每一个清醒的时刻。我们被告诫,要利用每天的小时间窗口,作为提高生产力的机会,并通过把我们的汽车、公共汽车、火车和飞机变成 “滚动的大学 “来继续我们的教育。有一个巨大的产业致力于教育我们如何做出微小的、渐进式的改变,以变得更有效率、更有生产力。

我也不例外。例如,我一直以来都有随身携带Kindle的习惯……以防我在某个地方被困5分钟。借用古代美国运通卡广告中的一句话,我 “足不出户”。最近,得益于蓝牙耳机的神奇,我也开始在走路或乘坐公共交通时随时收听教育类播客,以进一步确保一天中的任何一刻都不会被 “浪费”。现在,我们的科技让我们能够真正地填满每一秒钟的清醒时间。

然而,当我努力用有意义和有价值的事情来占据我一天的每一刻时,我发现这并没有让我快乐。难道我有不可救药的缺陷,无法长时间地专注于让自己成为某件事情的主人–并由此成为一个快乐的、自我实现的(即富有的)人?

经过反思,我发现这种强迫症是可悲的。深究起来,我发现自己无法自圆其说。华生 “极度懒惰 “有什么不好?为什么这句话会是如此不堪的形容?我觉得有必要用某种工作来填充每时每刻,这当然不会让我高兴。其实,它的效果恰恰相反。当我制造压力,要把一些有意义的、精心选择的活动塞进每一分钟时,我常常感到内疚,因为我没能约束自己达到那无法实现的100%效率。但我也感到愤懑,因为我从来没有时间放松,除了看一部老电影、听音乐、与小儿子共度不可替代的家庭时光、烘焙一些能让屋子里充满美妙香气的东西,或者只是多读一些福尔摩斯的故事之外,没有其他更有 “成效 “的事情。

我最终得出的结论,似乎是适当的平衡(对我来说,无论如何),是经过深思熟虑计划的生产力和无愧于心的自发性的融合。我仍然有我的常规程序,每天日历上的紧急/重要活动,以及我的最高投资回报率项目–目前,我的书的自我出版。但是,当我完成了每天的基本工作,并考虑到我将在一天剩余的时间里进行的活动后,我现在把这些任务与我所谓的Watson活动–任何我想做的事情–进行间隔。

而我也因为这样的时间分配而更加快乐。

************************

(回到2020年7月和18楼的家园)

我当然羡慕那些有钱的人,几乎可以买到任何他们想要的东西。是的,我承认,当我遇到生活中一些更精致、更精美的物质财产和体验时,我也会有纯粹贪婪的感觉。然而,年龄和反思让我相信,仅仅用金钱来衡量成功是不够的。提高我的生活水平必须与提高我的生活质量相适应。正如一位老外所说,尽管不懈努力,”你的收件箱在你死的那天会被填满”。工作到我们完成一天和一周的书面计划上的所有事情,对大多数人来说可能是一个不可能实现的梦想,尤其是当我们的活动涉及到依赖其他人的合作和努力时。也许一个更有效的方法–也可能是一个更聪明的方法–就是在计划我们的日子时,对我们当天用于实现各种目标的时间进行具体限制。然后,当我们达到这个时间限制,也就是我们自己选定的时间量时,就可以毫无愧疚或压力地享受一天的剩余时间。

我们遵循了我们的计划;现在,我们可以享受一些休息时间。这将包括如果我们愿意,可以自由地进行纯粹的懒惰。但这也可能意味着忙忙碌碌,但不遵循精心制定的计划。我看着我7岁的儿子在玩耍。他没有任何计划;他只是对任何能引起和吸引他注意力的东西进行短暂的玩耍。我的儿子对我的强迫症肯定比我快乐。也许我可以向他学习。也许我一天的最佳利用–在我完成我的各种项目之后–将是无计划、无组织的活动,即在当前环境下吸引我眼球的任何事情。正如戈登-麦奎利在他的经典短篇小说《三周无事可做》中写道:”我把每一天都用在它最适合的地方。有人能做得更好吗?” 以麦克的美好想象为标准,问问自己,你是否把每一天–以及一天中的每一部分–都用在最适合的地方?或者,你是否为了更高的生活标准的微小增量而牺牲了生活质量?

你对美好生活的愿景是什么?你是否正在采取措施去实现?在你的计划中,你是否也在采取措施确保生活质量,而不依赖于首先达到某个生活标准?你是否正在寻求一种更和平的生活,就在今天?我们从大流行的经验中了解到,可能没有明天,所以我们应该享受今天。除了用有意义的工作充实每一天,为更好的明天而努力之外,别忘了,有时候,最适合利用一天的时间,就是放松和洒脱。今天,在我完成了比较严肃的工作之后,我想我和切斯特会烤一些饼干,挂上新的浴帘。在他那笨笨的七岁孩子的协助下,通常会比单独工作的时间长一些,但父子俩的亲情时间是无价的。你能想到更好的利用我的时间吗?

P.S.在那段话中,华生说:”我养了一只斗牛犬,我反对排队,因为我的神经受到了震动,我在各种不正常的时间起床,我非常懒惰。”  不管那只斗牛犬怎么了?

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