Get Radical. Get Some Rest.

Ditching our hyperproductive lifestyles won’t just benefit us—it will help save the earth

  • Resting Feet

    Image by / Chris Bernard

  • Resting Feet

This article is one of several on reclaiming rest in all aspects of our lives. For more, read  Give Us a Break ,  Breaking It to Your Boss ,  Want to Get Away, Stay Home ,  Sleep Tips: Age Matters , and  The No Wake Zone .

In Prozac Nation, a memoir that struck a chord with millions of readers, Elizabeth Wurtzel writes, “I don’t want any more of this try, try again stuff. I just want out. I’ve had it. I am so tired. I am 20 and I am already exhausted.” Despite the fact that we are surrounded by labor-saving devices, despite the elevation of convenience and comfort above almost all other values, a profound sense of tiredness seems to be one of the defining features of modern life. And our world is as exhausted as we are. Our ecosystems are stretched far beyond their limits, and social structures like families and communities battle for survival.


The natural response to tiredness is to rest. Modern consumer culture, however, doesn’t like rest; “time is money,” we are told. Every second saved by a dishwasher or a car must be paid back double in longer working hours. In the gym, exercise (which is freely available in the nearest park) is sold at exclusive rates so that we can do it while we’re watching television. Even rest itself is commercialized and repackaged as “leisure.”

Returning to truly replenishing forms of rest would demand a reevaluation of tiredness—all the different kinds, each of which leads to negative personal, social, and ecological consequences. In doing so, we would address the problem of unsustainability, which is, after all, the essence of tiredness.

When we are tired, we know we cannot carry on in the same way for long. In evaluating all the ways we’re tired, we confront what makes life unsustainable. For us, and for our world.

Susan Donohoe
1/12/2009 4:28:38 PM

The alternative to our rushing, consumptive selves is voluntary simplicity, and plenty of people are aware of it. The idea of simple living has even become mainstream enough for Oprah, who featured an article called "Back to Basics," in the January 2009 issue of O! magazine. I'm a co-founder of a non-profit called Conscious Consuming, where we encourage people to "Slow Down and Green Up." We are the founders of US National Downshifting Week, which is planned from July 11-18th this year. Our website has loads of free resources for people interested in stepping off the work and spend treadmill, including a downloadable Discussion Guide if you want to share the antidote to overwork with some of your friends.

Gordon Shephard
1/8/2009 4:34:42 PM

The World, a Round distance, the signal of longing here in this empty place, thronging with the busy-ness of humanity what would be the point of sanity here, where only that is crucial which wallows in the commercial never stopped, for a moment, feeling, racing ever forward, the wheeling gulls unnoticed overhead, distant birds, unheard cries, instead of piercing to the heart those who listen, dissipate unheeded, they hasten onward to the desired state of being, forever empty and replete forever vacuous and clinging oblivious forever to the singing distance, the signal of longing here in this empty place

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