Friday, April 01, 2011

All Fools' Day

by Zinta Aistars

"April 1. This is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other three-hundred and sixty-four." ~Mark Twain

April Fools' Day fun hoax in Denmark
 Mark Twain may have something there. The homo sapien is certainly not the wisest creature walking the planet all the other days of the year, but at least on this one dayApril Fools' Daywe have a bit of fun with our foolishness.

First mention of this day was in Canterbury Tales by Chaucer in 1392, amusing tales peopled with several amusing fools, and the day is marked in various countries across the world with jokes and hoaxes and general poking fun. Some say it had something to do with a switch in calendars in France, with fools still celebrating the new year on April 1. Still other sources go as far back as the biblical figure of Noah, who mistakenly released a dove to find land on April 1 before the waters had receded.

Even the media and otherwise respectable public institutions have been known to get in on the practical jokes this day. There was the year that the space shuttle landed in San Diego ... Taco Bell purchased the liberty bell and the Lincoln Memorial was grabbed up by the auto industry and renamed the Lincoln Mercury Memorial ... the world's first mummified dead fairy, eight inches long, was discovered ... Expedia offered a flight to Mars ... NPR announced that Richard Nixon had second thoughts and was running for a second term ... the Tower of Pizza had fallen ... Burger King sold burgers for left-handed customers, with condiments conveniently dripping out the right side ... Google added Klingon in its lists of languages to use on your computer ... and, of course, there are the usual standbys of coins glued to the floor, salt in the sugar bowl, clear plastic wrap over the toilet seat.

So why all the foolishness?

Why not. With so much seriousness in our world now, a day of silliness can be healthy. Let loose and laugh! I've never been a fan of practical jokes, because they seem to always be at the expense of the person being pranked, but a shared laugh can be a good way for people to bond and to disperse tension and alleviate stress.

Sherry Ackerman writes in The Good Life: How to Create a Sustainable and Fulfilling Lifestyle that Americans have become obsessed with work and forgotten how to play. Recreation, she says, refreshes our minds and "re-creates" us. Chasing the "American Dream," too many of us live to work rather than work to live. Our happiness quotient is going sharply down, our stress levels up, as we focus on more "goods" rather having a good life.

"Recreation signals the body to regenerate from the cellular level on up. The brain functions as a computer and when the body operates optimally, there is constant feedback from the brain to all of the organs and other body parts, facilitating continual regeneration. The body, though, can't operate optimally without regular recreations ... recreation re-creates our brains: neurons crave novelty." (Page 111)

In other words, now and then, and on a regular basis, we need to unplug before we burn out.

Unfortunately, our American work ethic makes heroes out of those who work long hours, arriving early at work and staying late. Our identities are tied into our occupations, and when we are asked to say something about who we are, most of us list first our job title. We make excuses about taking a day off, feel guilty when we go on vacation, working extra hard before and after. We aren't really working smart, just working hard, and our tattered family and personal lives, our epidemic of obesity and depression, our sleep deprivation, show the evidence of neglect.

Time to play. We need to take the time to play, not as a luxury, but as a necessity. The re-created person, studies show, is actually more productive, works more efficiently (smarter!) and makes fewer mistakes, than the workaholic.

"Full time workers in most of Europe typically take seven to eight weeks of vacation and holidays each year," Ackerman writes. "The European Union requires its members to set a minimum standard of four weeks paid vacation, which applies to part-time workers as well. Finland and France require six weeks paid vacation, plus additional paid holidays."

"According to Harvard economist Alberto Alesina, Europeans are happier, and have less stress and insecurity, which is good for health and longevity. Supporting studies in the United States, for example, indicate that taking vacations cuts the risk of heart attacks, in male populations, in half ... longer, mandated vacations haven't undercut the competitiveness of other wealthy countries, and there's even evidence to suggest that they have increased their productivity." (Page 112-113)

Perhaps it's time to take a long, hard look at what it is that we value and how it is that we define ourselves. If accumulating "stuff" is our goal in life rather than accumulating good memories of time shared with family and friends, enriching travel, or just resting in the shade of a tree on a long, lazy summer day ... then maybe we really have gotten too far off our path in the pursuit of happiness. Instead, it seems to have become the pursuit of stuff.

If any good has come of our recent economic crisis, it has been a raised awareness of what we truly value in our lives. Even as we watch with horror the devastation of Japan in the tsunami and earthquake, the lesson seems clear. Putting value on the accumulation of goods rather than building a good life (being in good health, having a strong social network, family and friends, and enjoying the work we do rather than occupying our time with a job we dislike) is not the way to go. No point in living in big houses if we are constantly at the office working to pay the inflated mortgage and neglecting the family that lives there.

So play the fool. Have a good laugh. Call recess. Put your feet up and pour yourself a Guinness, and be sure to let it rest for 15 minutes before that first sip, or the foam won't settle properly into its creamy layer.

We need a little of April foolishness in our every day.

No comments:

Post a Comment