Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Take a Vacation!

School starts today! I am always happy to see summer end. And, when it comes to schools, I have long been a believer in year-round schooling - for reasons both educational and social. I'll leave it to the experts to describe how much learning is lost while schools are closed during the summer. Suffice it to say I think the traditional school vacation is too long, too much of an interruption in the educational process and generally too disruptive. A more balanced calendar would, I believe, benefit both students and society as a whole.

That said, however, I do nonetheless really believe in the importance of taking vacations. There are, of course, all kinds of vacations - including so-called "working vacations," some of which hardly deserve to be called a vacation. Certainly sabbaticals and the like, which are intended to be learning experiences with some specifically productive purpose can also be restorative physically and emotionally. In my own life, my two summers abroad for language study in the 1970s and 1980s respectively, my summer program in Israel 20+ years ago, and my several months studying the canonization process in Rome, while certainly not vacations, were enormously enjoyable and incredibly restorative, as well as important study opportunities. 

Even so, I want to put in a good word for the plan old-fashioned restful vacation - something our workaholic culture increasingly denigrates. (Witness the silly media whining whenever a President takes a vacation - a "working vacation" if ever there was one!) In this past Sunday's NY Times "Sunday Review" section, Daniel J. Levitin - Director of the Laboratory for Music, Cognition and Expertise at McGill University and author of The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload - advises against the guilt and worry increasingly associated with taking time off. He warns, "beware the false break. Make sure you have a real one. the summer vacation is more than a quaint tradition. along with family time, mealtimes and weekends, it is an important way that we can make the most of our beautiful brains."

I knew things were getting bad, but not until i read this article did I realize that "on a typical day, we take in the equivalent of 174 newspapers' worth of information, five times as much as we did in 1986." In one sense, certainly that is amazing. But it is also a little frightening!  No wonder we most of us feel overwhelmed so much of the time - even when we aren't actually physically straining ourselves!

Based on the way our brains appear to work, Levitin recommends taking breaks as being "biologically restorative." He recommends naps. "in several studies, a nap of even 10 minutes improved cognitive function and vigor, and decreased sleepiness and fatigue." and, of course, he recommends real vacations. "If we can train ourselves to take regular vacations - true vacations without work - and to set aside time for naps and contemplation, we will be in a more powerful position to start solving some of the world's big problems. and to be happier and well rested while we're doing it."

A hearty Amen to that!

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