Americans are in a hurry. We rush to work, and rush to get the job done. We then rush home, and rush to get dinner on the table, kids to their activities, homework done, work some more. We rush to get to bed and hope to fall asleep really fast because the morning will be here before you know it, alarms dragging us out of bed to do it all over again.

No wonder we love weekends.

But what are we losing in our fast-paced modern times? Americans are stressed – indeed, almost a quarter of respondents to an American Psychological Associate “Stress in America Survey” reported extreme stress; we are famously unhealthy, with chronic health conditions on the rise: fifty percent of US adults are living with some kind of chronic disease, and 1 in 3 of us is obese. And we aren’t particularly happy: one in ten Americans is living with depression, almost a third of us will experience anxiety in our lifetime, and up to 90% of all doctors visits are related to stress.

When we slow down, we create the space for more happiness and health in our lives. When we rush around from obligation to obligation, where is the joy? …and what is the point?

In order to take back our lives and create a better quality of life, we can make some small choices that will yield big results:

  1. Set a bed time and make it sacred. That bed time should be a little more than eight hours before the alarm will go off the next morning. When we give our bodies a chance to rest and get a good nights’ sleep, we feel different. Research links sleep deprivation with everything from depression to weight gain. Sleeping is one of the most important things we can do for our health, and one of the things we really undervalue in our culture. For the many of us who struggle with insomnia, one of the best treatments is to set and keep regular sleep and wake times.
  2. Decide what you can let go of. If your day is crammed with after-school activities for the kids, which ones are really worth it? A stressed-out kid who is shuttled between gymnastics, dance, and softball isn’t necessarily living the ideal childhood. I remember sitting in the lawn as a kid, watching insects and eating the buds of yellow clover flowers. I can still taste them. I’ll bet my kids don’t know what those flowers taste like; they spent their youth going to practice. It is a shame.
  3. If you are a slave to your housework, think about what you can live without and try to build in efficiencies for the things that matter. A professional organizer can help with that. I remember seeing on the Oprah show years ago a woman who was driving her family crazy because she was such a cleaning freak. After an intervention, she and her family decided not to sweep the floor every night. One less thing to do, one less thing to argue about. In my own home, I decided to trade ecology for the convenience of disposable cleaning wipes; I figured I wasn’t going to solve the waste disposal crisis anyway, and it makes cleaning easier. What are the things you can do to simplify the tasks you have to keep? Which are the tasks you can let go?
  4. Take a walk at lunch time. Even five or ten minutes away from your desk, outside in the real air, is like pushing the re-set button on the day. Take a friend, and don’t talk about work unless it is to laugh about it. In my 20’s, I used to relish lunchtime walks, which were such a reprieve from an unfulfilling job. I thought back then that those walks were moments I’d cherish for the rest of my life. Twenty-five years later, I can say I was right.
  5. Smell the roses. Really. Walk by flowers in bloom and try to catch their fragrance in the air. It reconnects you to the moment and to nature. And makes you happy.
  6. Greet your family when you come home. Make it a ritual. Smile, make eye contact, have a hug. It will connect you to them and allow you to pause and transition to the next thing. And then you will be more mindful about what you are doing.
  7. Bless your food. It is amazing and wonderful that we have such a bounty of colorful, life-giving foods available to us. Taking the moment to honor it before eating slows the pace, increases the mindfulness, enhances the enjoyment. And you’ll eat less, and better.
  8. Take a bath. Let the kids fold their laundry or run the vacuum. Your emails can wait. That endless TV will still be there when you finish. A good soak does a world of wonder to wash away the stress of a busy day.
  9. Take a nap. If you are really tired, take a nap. Just make it a short one or it may disrupt your sleep cycle. Set your alarm for 15 minutes and close your eyes. You will be amazed at how much better you feel.
  10. Don’t buy into the busy-ness. We are caught up in a grand illusion that every little task is uber-important. Imagine you are 90 years old. What would your old, wise self say to the present-day you? My guess is that it would be something like, “Slow down, enjoy your life. It is fleeting.”