'What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?'
So begins the famous poem by the Welsh poet, William Davies. There can be no doubt that the lives of many of us are under pressure; not only because of the current economic climate and the (often difficult) changes thereby necessitated at home and within our workplaces, but also through a predilection for the tendency of those living in a western society to squeeze more and more into each day and week, until the months and years become but a passing blur - so much for the 1970s concept that computers (for example) would make life easier for us all, and allow for greater leisure time.
Holidays are a time when many of us realise the undesirable qualities and true nature of our working lives. It was the topic of leisure that was on William Davies's mind when he penned his 1911 poem. It was also something he took very seriously, living his early adult years as a tramp (I recommend to you the Wikipedia website for a fascinating account of his life). Leisure was also the topic on my mind when I pensively sat overlooking the terraced farm land and distant slopes of the Troodos Mountains in Cyprus last week, where life in the hillside village of Pissouri is still conducted in the slow lane of time. Whilst there, I pondered on the various blessings of my life, some of them immediately tangible; others less so, such as the privileges of being a Freeman of the City of London (it is such a great comfort to know that, should I ever be hanged for treason, it will be by means of a silk-rope: so much easier on a delicate neck).
Of course, as individuals we have a myriad of ways of finding happiness, and it doesn't need a trip abroad or the quasi-benefits of an archaic preferment to discover happiness within our lives. Being happy and feeling free of stress are often two overlapping concepts. It was therefore interesting to learn about a new campaign recently launched by the likes of the Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, and our own poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy. Called the Action for Happiness Campaign (http://www.actionforhappiness.org), and drawing on research by the London School of Economics, the campaign aims to encourage and assist the British to rediscover the pleasures to be found in even the most simplest of lives.
We all know that stress is, in its extreme, bad for our health. However, how many of us make the time within a busy week to sit still for even a short while and reflect on the pleasant aspects of life? Perhaps we should all take a leaf out of the Quaker practice of sitting quietly still for at least one hour per week? For, as William Davies ended by saying: 'A poor life this, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare'.
First published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, Friday 15th April 2011