Health

Happiness can mean doing nothing: Embracing my silent side

I've been trying to seek out more silence to speed along the relaxation we all seem to desperately need.

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I’ve been trying to do a better job of seeking out silence and calm – which isn’t always easy for a girl who usually thrives on activity. When I do actually carve out time to relax, I find it tough to turn off the part of my brain that handles scheduling and expectations and work aspirations. One of the frustrations with week-long vacations is that just as you’re starting to calm down and live in the moment instead of worrying about what’s going on in Egypt or on Facebook, it’s time to go back to the grind. But I’ve found that immersing myself in nature can be a shortcut to relaxation. Park me in front of the ocean on a quiet beach – even after a lengthy plane ride and an email inbox pinging away with demands – and the sounds of smells and sand between my toes will do the job of 100 highly-skilled masseuses.

As I get older, I find that I have an increasing ability to do nothing. Like, really nothing. Just sitting and staring and thinking about nothing in particular. I can do it in the city, over a double Americano in a cafe, for example, as I stare out a window, casually observing the world go by. But it works best for me as a meditative practice when I’m smack in the middle of nature. And so when I recently found myself staying at a resort – Hacienda de San Antonio – in the mountainous region near Puerto Vallarta, I spent a lot of time just sitting and staring, while the sounds of trickling fountains and chirping birds served as the ideal soundtrack. Every night, as the sun begins to set behind the mountains, the volcano glows bright pink. And every night, I would sit and marvel and try to silence my thoughts – beyond the occasional “Wow, nice volcano.”

Sometimes, what makes you happy can come as a surprise. I used to think that I needed to be around people and options and activity; I thought that happiness, for me, always involved doing something. But I’ve started to realize that happiness can also mean doing nothing, ideally all by myself. I don’t need a pristine beach or a well-lit volcano, either – I just need a moment all to myself, where I allow myself to put down my phone, close my laptop and just breathe.