The many upsides of dialing down

shutterstock_131339729The folks at TEDMED are on vacation.  The whole crew. The offices are closed, and the staff is engaging in two weeks of employer-sponsored, compulsory, mind-freeing, feet-upping, email avoiding, old-fashioned rest.

There are many good reasons for a break. Thinking each and every day about innovation, creativity, and the promise and challenges of health, medicine and science can get pretty intense. Not to mention working regularly with some of the most brilliant minds on the planet – TEDMED’s speakers.

More good reasons:  Taking time off may be good for your health; one study suggested it reduced the risk of coronary heart diseaseThat goes for women as well as men, by the way.  A vacation may help you sleep better, at least in the short term. Giving employees downtown can boost productivity and creativity.  As Charles Duhigg explained in his book, The Power of Habit, breaking away from routine is an ideal time to break away from an unfavorable habit, or form a new one.

Proponents of stepping back from the daily grind are legion. The proverb “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” dates back to 1659, according to Wikipedia. Stephen Covey’s seventh habit of highly efficient people was “sharpen the saw,” meaning to take time off, go away, change your pace and your mental activity. And M. Scott Peck, MD, said in his book The Road Less Traveled that an essential part of maturity is balance, which he defined as knowing “how to discipline discipline.”

Part of breaking away ideally includes unplugging, although according to a recent Harris poll, 54% of respondents said their boss expected them to stay connected while away, though many of us probably find being wired also gives us peace of mind.  Yet our love affair with interactive technology is more like a bad romance; it can actually change our brains, making it hard to listen to and relate to real people, a key element in our mental health.  As psychologist and director of Director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, Sherry Turkle, said at TED in 2012, “We expect more from technology and less from each other.” We can reconnect and repair the brain, at least; miffed family members might take longer to come around.

(I know what you’re thinking here – who posted this?  Well, the elves who handle the always-on worlds of blogging and social media are taking turns resting this summer.)

Not everyone even gets the benefit of time off.  And American workers generally have less than other industrialized nations; in fact, we are the only developed economy that does not federally mandate time off.  Compare that to Denmark, whose workers get a mandated five-weeks leave.  (No wonder the U.N. lists them as the world’s happiest nation.) But even if they do have the opportunity to take the standard two weeks, many Americans simply don’t take the time off, fearing they’ll fall behind or be replaced.

Perhaps it’s all in the attitude we bring to rest — and work — which many wise minds suggest should be more in the form of play. The philosopher Eric Hoffer said, ““When the Greeks said, ‘Whom the gods love die young’ they probably meant, as Lord Sankey suggested, that those favored by the gods stay young till the day they die; young and playful.” Plato seemingly agreed:  “God alone is worthy of supreme seriousness, but man is made God’s plaything, and that is the best part of him. Therefore every man and woman should live accordingly and play the noblest games … Life must be lived as play.”

One can also easily take the advice of comedian Milton Burle:  “Laughter is like an instant vacation.”

Marcus Webb contributed to this post.