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Bright side of Blue Monday

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
January 20, 2011
By Colleen Carroll Campbell

 

The holidays are over, the bills have arrived, and most New Year’s resolutions already have bit the dust. Add dreary winter weather and guilt about unfinished work and you have the makings of what British psychologist Cliff Arnall famously has dubbed Blue Monday, the most miserable day of the year. Some reports say that Blue Monday fell on January 17 this year; others say it is arriving this coming Monday, January 24. Either way, it seems that we’re officially in the thick of the post-holiday winter blues.

 

Such blanket statements about our collective mood may be based on dubious science, but there’s no denying that the doldrums tend to strike this time of year. Our perpetually plugged-in condition only exacerbates the problem. Everywhere we turn, reports of ongoing economic woes and outbursts of senseless violence bombard us, their injury compounded by the insult of political jockeying and blame-casting that inevitably follows each national tragedy.

 

In the wake of this month’s Tucson shootings, we heard a lot about the need for politicians to slow down and contemplate the higher purpose behind their words and actions. The same could be said for their constituents and media critics, and not just in regard to politics. Nearly everyone in our noisy, hyper-active, hyper-productive society probably could benefit from the opportunity for a little more contemplation. This barren, post-holiday winter season, so bereft of pleasant diversions, is as good a time as any to take it.

 

But slowing down is hard to do in a culture that celebrates efficiency and productivity as cardinal virtues.  Just ask 92-year-old Billy Graham. When journalist Greta Van Susteren interviewed him recently, the man who became a household name by preaching to millions around the world surprised her by saying that he wished he had spent his life doing less of what made him famous.

 

“I would pray more, travel less, take less speaking engagements. I took too many of them in too many places around the world,” Graham said. “If I had it to do over again, I’d spend more time in meditation and prayer.”

 

Eighty-three-year-old Pope Benedict XVI expressed a similar sentiment in his recently released book-length interview with German journalist Peter Seewald, “Light of the World.” When complimented by Seewald on his prolific writing career and energetic travel schedule, the pope emphasized instead the importance of rest and contemplation.

 

It is crucial, Benedict said, to cultivate “discretion, deeper examination, contemplation, time for interior pondering, vision, and dealing with things, remaining with God and meditating about God. One should not feel obliged to work ceaselessly; this in itself is important for everyone, too, for instance, for every manager, too, and even more so for a Pope. He has to leave many things to others so as to maintain his inner view of the whole, his interior recollection, from which the view of what is essential can proceed.”

 

It’s easy to dismiss such words as the facile advice of popes and preachers. But new research suggests that our postmodern fixation on round-the-clock productivity and constant communication may be making our winter blues a year-round affair. Several studies in recent years have linked multitasking – especially the electronic sort – to increased stress and diminished concentration.

 

One study, of iPhone users in the journal Science, found that people spend nearly half their waking hours thinking about something other than what they are doing, and such divided attention dampens spirits. Noting that “many philosophical and religious traditions teach that happiness is to be found by living in the moment,” Harvard psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert concluded that such timeless advice may have science on its side.

 

Such realizations are driving a quiet backlash against the frenetic, distracted pace of postmodern life. You can glimpse it in the “slow-food” movement that rebels against processed food and meals on the go, in the “slow-reading” movement that encourages distracted youngsters to savor stories for their own sake and in memoirs like Eric Brende’s “Better Off,” which details his journey with his wife from MIT to an Amish-type community and, eventually, a low-tech life as a rickshaw driver, soap-maker and a homeschooling father in St. Louis.

 

Most of us are not ready to make such radical changes. Yet these bleak January days offer an excuse to slow down and unplug a little, so we don’t need to reach the winter of our lives before realizing that what we spent so much time striving for mattered less than what we neglected along the way.

 

Colleen Carroll Campbell is a St. Louis-based author, former presidential speechwriter and television and radio host of “Faith & Culture” on EWTN. Her website is www.colleen-campbell.com.

 

Colleen Carroll Campbell
  • Colleen Carroll Campbell is an author, print and broadcast journalist and former presidential speechwriter. Her books include her critically acclaimed journalistic study, The New Faithful, and her award-winning spiritual memoir, My Sisters the Saints, which has been published in Spanish, Portuguese, Polish and as an audiobook. Colleen's journalism credits include contributions to the New York Times, Washington Post, Christianity Today, First Things and America, and appearances on CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, ABC News, PBS and NPR. She has served as executive producer and anchor of EWTN News Nightly with Colleen Carroll Campbell, a television newscast airing worldwide on EWTN, the world’s largest religious media network, and as creator and host of EWTN’s Faith & Culture television and radio interview show. In 2013, she anchored EWTN’s live television coverage of the historic election and installation of Pope Francis in Rome. A former speechwriter for President George W. Bush and editorial writer and op-ed columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Colleen is the recipient of two honorary doctorates and numerous other awards for her work. She serves as a religious liberty consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and speaks to audiences across North America and Europe. Colleen lives in St. Louis, Missouri, with her husband and four children, whom she homeschools. Her website is www.colleen-campbell.com.

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