WHY SHOULD WE TAKE VACATIONS?

BLOG #34, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
WHY SHOULD WE TAKE VACATIONS?
August 20, 2014

Why indeed?

This was the question Washington Post columnist Brigid Schulte tackled in her August 10 column in The Denver Post.

Schulte notes that “We Americans work hard. Weekends are more like workends. We sleep with our smart phones. And we think vacations are for wimps. So we don’t take them. Or take work along with us if we do.”

We are indeed a nation of workaholics. Indeed we are the only advanced economy with no national vacation policy. One in four workers, typically in low-wage jobs, have no paid vacation at all. Those who do, get, on the average, only ten to fourteen days a year. Europeans enjoy twenty to thirty days of paid vacation every year.

Terry Hartig, an environmental psychologist at Uppsala University in Sweden, maintains that “when people go on a relaxing vacation, they tend to return happier and more relaxed. . . . And those mellow, good vibes spread like “a contagion’ to everyone you come in contact with. . . . Send everyone away on vacation at the same time [as is true in Europe], and that contagion takes off through the population like a viral happiness pandemic.”

Hartig and his colleagues conducted a major study based on the incidence of anti-depressant prescriptions in Sweden during the years 1993 through 2005. They discovered that the more people took vacations at the same time, the more prescriptions dropped exponentially. True for men, women, workers, and retirees. Since 1977, Swedish law has mandated that every worker must be given five weeks of paid vacation each year (and they may take four of them during summer months. “The benefits,” maintains Hartig, “are huge. Not only is the society measurably happier, but workers are more rested and productive, relationships are closer and people are healthier. And depression is a very costly disease.”

Depression alone costs the U.S. economy an estimated $23 billion a year in lost productivity.

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We were not created to run non-stop, but rather to take time off from work at least once a week. Scripture mandates Sabbaths during which we may regenerate. Longer Sabbaths were also mandated periodically. Multiple studies have confirmed one universal truth: Those who work non-stop soon reach the point of diminishing returns. The more hours they put in on the job the less effective they are, the staler their ideas are. So employers who work their employees to death end up losing even more than their employees do.

Furthermore, unless you frequently get out of your workplace squirrel cage, you never gain fresh ideas at all, but merely recycle increasingly outdated concepts and methods.

So back to Hartig who notes that, in Sweden, “It’s like there’s this national agreement that it’s vacation time, and work will be left aside. So instead of working and being distracted and busy, people get outside. They do things they like and enjoy. They see friends, visit their aging parents, or finally have time for that cup of tea with a friend who has been blue.”

* * * * *

America continues to pay a terrible price for our workaholocism. The current epidemic of depression and suicides ought to be a wake-up call for us.

We must take time to live!

Grace Livingston Hill’s “Happiness Hill”

BLOG # 34, SERIES #4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #22
GRACE LIVINGSTON HILL’S HAPPINESS HILL
August 21, 2013

Yes, another summer is giving way to autumn, and here in the Colorado high country, on serpentine Conifer Mountain Drive, splotches of yellow in the aspens signal the coming autumn.

For several weeks now, ever since I first turned the calendar page from July to August, I’ve wrestled with our August book. Since so many of you have told me you’ve faithfully sought out and purchased each of the 21 previous titles in the series, I take each new selection seriously. Which brings me to you: what are your responses to the series, based as they are on my own favorite books? I’d like to know.

August. It’s a lazy month. For the young, at the end of it is that dreaded yet longed-for thing called school. For the older, it’s “back to the grindstone.” In Europe half the continent can be found on the beaches during magical August.

So it isn’t the month for a heavy read – but a light one. But for me, the hanging question has been, “How light?” So I searched through my library, trying to find a book that while light still held within its pages something enduring, meaningful, heart-tugging, worthy of the last days of summer. Took me three separate reads before I found it.

copy of two books.

First I read Emilie Loring’s Give Me One Summer. I read it because the lighthouse/seashore cover promised summer romance. It was a good read, but in the end, it left me empty. Perhaps because the romance seemed so superficial. Next, I turned to another seacoast novel, Grace Livingston Hill’s Rainbow Cottage. I liked it very much for it featured wonderful seacoast and floral imagery. Plenty of suspense. But its over-the-top preachiness bothered me some; but what bothered me even more was the protagonists’ lack of growth at the end: just float on old money and live in a castle in Ireland. In short, it was little more than a Christian fairytale. All the female protagonist did was be beautiful and genteel and be taken care of by a virile young man who also lived on old money.

So I turned to Happiness Hill. Grace Livingston Hill’s Christian romances have always intrigued me. For one reason, perhaps because for more than a hundred years now, Christian parents have considered them a safe “Sabbath read” for their children. Grace Livingston Hill (1866 – 1947) was born in Wellsville, New York to Presbyterian minister Charles Montgomery Livingston and his wife, Marcia Macdonald Livingston, both of them being writers; as was Grace’s aunt, Isabella Macdonald Alden, who became a famous writer for children writing under the pseudonym, Pansy.

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Wikipedia describes Hill’s novels as “quite simplistic in nature: good versus evil. As Hill believed the Bible was very clear about what was good and evil in life, she reflected that cut-and-dried design in her own works. She wrote about a variety of different subjects, almost always with a romance worked into the message and often essential to the return to grace on the part of one or several characters. . . . A secondary subject would always be God’s ability to restore. Hill aimed for a happy, or at least satisfactory, ending to any situation, often focusing on characters’ new or renewed faith as impetus for resolution.”

In my own escape-reading (after I read serious, heavy reading, her books are just that to me) I think that what weakened the power of her books, at least in my eyes, is how stereotypical and formulaic most of her plots are: in essence, at the end of much travail and torment, the Christian and the wealthy protagonist walk off into the sunset hand-in-hand, into a happily-ever-after existence, all their troubles left behind. Clearly, Hill’s noblesse oblige plots worked, for millions of her books have sold down through the years. Almost always, too, her books contain one or two almost unbelievably nasty and cruel villains.

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Which brings us to Happiness Hill. In it I found what I’ve too often missed in Hill’s novels: a strong work ethic coupled with a strong family with character being a constant. Thus, in this novel, Hill managed to create a heroine who belatedly realizes that only as she anchors her ship of life on one side, with the anchor of a strong loving family; and, on the other side, with the enduring anchor of a personal relationship with God, will her ship not founder. For if all one has is a line from one’s ship with an open loop on either end, then that romance is no stronger than a flip of the loop on either end.

And this, my dear friends, is what makes Happiness Hill enduring, lasting, and a joy to both read and re-read—for it contains two very strong such anchors.

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You shouldn’t have any trouble finding a copy of this book, either in hardback or paper. But let me encourage you to spend a little extra effort and time searching out one with a dust-jacket such as the evocative one depicted in this blog.

A Trembling World – Part 5

A TREMBLING WORLD
Part Five

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

For four weeks we have spelled out a litany of woes and bad news; now it’s time to search for both silver-linings and solutions, for doom and gloom alone will merely lead to paralysis and despair.  So it’s time for us to approach the issue from a different perspective.

For three-quarters of a century, we have been born into, lived, and died, within the parameters of the Great Society template.  In short: the promise of cradle-to-the-grave care promised and delivered by generation after generation of politicians.  Now we are discovering that those old assumptions that worked so well for so long are no longer valid.

Let’s quickly look at what we lost during that 75-year period: First, the very backbone of a great civilization—a moral code by which that society lives and acts.  In our case, before the so-called “Great Society,” Americans by and large believed in God and the biblical injunctions about good and evil, right and wrong. For close to a century, our almost universal sources of allusions were three: The Bible, Pilgrim’s Progress, and the McGuffy Readers (or counterparts).  We as a society firmly believed in two things: God and country.  When we swore by the Bible that something was unquestionably true, or declared on the witness stand that our testimony would be true, “So help me God,” it meant something.  It was the bedrock of our entire civilization. Today, both religion and patriotism have been under unrelenting attack by a predominantly unchurched and amoral media that seeks to so undermine and discredit the values Christians live by that they will crumble and cease to matter.  Christians have, by and large, supinely accepted such characterizations as perhaps true, and impossible to refute.  In short, in this respect, we have all but lost the battle.  But now, as the Great Society cracks at its seams, we are all given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reaffirm these values.

Second, we have all but lost the home, family—the very bedrock of a great civilization; when it has crumbled, historians tell us that it will only be a matter of time before the civilization itself collapses as well.  When America was assaulted by the Great Depression of the 1930s, America’s families were strong enough to together (intergenerationally, with all three generations circling their wagons) somehow muddle through to the light (paradoxically World War II, fifteen years after the Crash of 1929).  Today; with single-parent households being the norm for the first time in our history, with out-of-wedlock births skyrocketing from one-third towards half (close to 80% in Black families), there is no such familial safety net to fall back on.  If the government can no longer afford to take care of us, and if the family (What family?  What with the discrediting of marriage, ubiquitous live-ins, multiple sex-partners, divorce after divorce, with children tossed back and forth as human frisbees) —where are the children (the adult children too) going to find a life-line?

Recently, a dear friend of mine (an erstwhile millionaire) lost everything: his six-figure position, his wife’s executive job, his home (appraised for a million and a quarter that several  years later dropped so far below its original “value” that it was foreclosed on for a little over $400,000 .  By that time, my friend had been forced into bankruptcy.  Poignantly, he told me, “Because my credit is in such shambles, I couldn’t even buy a junker of a car.  I can only purchase things (including food) with what cash we have.  Belatedly, I have come to realize that in this life, we can count on only three things: God, family (one that still loves and respects us), and health.  With these three, we can make it.”  So it is that now, in an economy that appears unable to find any kind of bedrock, perhaps again we Americans may rediscover the value of marriage, commitment, and family.

Third, 75 years ago, we once had a work ethic that was the envy of the world.  Because the Great Society taught us that we no longer had to give an honest day’s effort for an honest day’s pay (indeed that we were entitled to pay even when we were out of work, providing few incentives to return to work for all too many who abuse the system), there has been an increasing reluctance to work at all.  We refuse, by and large, to accept “menial” work.  We no longer teach industrial arts in our schools and colleges or honor those who keep the machinery of our society in working order.  Work that our text-messaging media-junkies could be doing is now being down by untold thousands—indeed millions—of migrant workers who are delighted to have a job at all.  In offices across the land, rather than contributing to the firm’s bottom line by conscientious work, it is said that untold thousands dither through their days, playing word games with each other, watching Internet porn, text-messaging their friends—and then they wonder why their companies fold!  There appears to be a real disconnect with what it takes to produce enough product to warrant steady pay-checks.  No small thanks to these rampant abuses, pundits are telling us that offices as we know them will, sooner than we think, begin to disappear.  Contract-work (far easier to monitor) will replace nine-to-five jobs in glass and steel boxes.  And that may not be such a bad thing.

Next Wednesday we will continue to search for solutions.