Theory of Happiness #1


“Play till you feel like resting, then rest till you feel like playing. Never do anything else.”-Martha Beck

I started to feel that tell-tale tickle in the back of my throat last Saturday afternoon, en route to the beach. By evening it was a full-blown sore throat; by Monday, I was intimate with the netti pot; Tuesday a cough, and today laryngitis and the beginnings of bronchitis. Up until recently, I told a certain story that went like this: I’d get every cold that came down the pike and into my house on the fingertips and lips of my two young children. I’d spend the duration (usually 2 weeks) berating myself and my immune system. The latter for being so wimpy, and the former for the usual crime: DOING TOO MUCH. (I once had a life coach who, when I complained to her about my chronic state of DOING TOO MUCH and my inability to change anything so that I could do less and be sane, suggested that I did just the right amount, and that I needed to change my attitude about what was too much. I promptly fired her.)

But I have retired from the career of beating myself up. I’m 46 now, and in some eras and cultures, that ripe age was considered elderly. Well, I won’t stoop to elder abuse. Besides it’s not really verifiably true that A. my usual velocity leads to B. getting run down/susceptible to viruses. Here’s a kinder story: my parents both get sick with colds with great frequency, yet they are healthy, vital 70-year-olds who live life at full throttle and pack more into one day than most people pack into a year. (Well, a week.) My four aunts are the same way. Maybe it’s just what happens in our particular gene pool. And really, if I can surrender to the reality of a cold and take appropriate action, it’s not so bad: I cancel any activity I can cancel, and take to my bed. What’s so terrible about that?

Martha Beck, whom I love, and who trained me to be a life coach, says, “Play till you feel like resting, then rest till you feel like playing. Never do anything else.” It’s such simple, brilliant advice. It should be noted that she uses the word “play” as someone else might use “work”––but only if one’s work is the work one choses to do, the kind of work that makes one jump out of bed in the morning just because one can’t wait to get to it. I am fortunate to have such work. I am always eager to get to it, even when I am sick.

It occurs to me that rather than get all mad at myself for “letting myself get sick” through my misbehaving ways of overdoing, of over working/overplaying, I should just relax and seize these little viral tornados as opportunities for rest. And that just as “play” and “rest” in her equation are clearly equal partners, so “well” and “sick” could be in my own personal lexicon. Nerissa gets sick sometimes and has to go low. Big deal. I think I am ready to let the shame that seems to go with the illness go. The shame, when I shine the light on it, seems to be a kind of Icarus shame: I was sailing too high, and the sun melted my feathers. How dare I?

So when the tickle arrived last Saturday, I just laughed, checked my watch and nodded. Yup. About due for a rest. Bring it on.

One thought on “Theory of Happiness #1

  1. I’ve been on the down-and-out with a cold all week. And it’s definitely on the heels of an overpacked, over stressed week. And yet all week, I’ve been mad that I’m not using my time off (I nanny and the family is out of town for the week) to get writing done. Sigh.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *