Wrapped in a cosy shawl, legs propped up on an ottoman and feet warmed against a log fire, I take sips from a steaming mug of coffee between leafing through a classic novel read years ago, humming a favourite tune and occasionally glancing at a perfectly manicured, lush green lawn. At least to me, this sounds like a perfect break from the daily routine, to spend time with myself, surrounded by objects pleasing to my taste. But how often do I get a chance to experience it is another matter. I may be able to go into painstaking details to achieve ‘my’ corner, with the pair of a perfect sofa and ottoman and close to reality log fire. I can surely with pride, display my collection of choicest readings, a warm shawl is already in my possession and so is a mug which can easily be filled up with coffee, but a combination of all these elements, however, is a rarity. Even at this moment, while I am penning my thoughts, I answer queries of my son for his exam preparations and attend to other house chores. Stolen moments of pleasure have indeed become precious.
While some readers may relate to what I feel is the dilemma of our lives, some indirectly acknowledging the situation, may rubbish it by saying that they are too caught up in their jobs and family matters to ‘waste’ time just reading a book or pursuing any other past time of yesteryears. In fact, most of us may not even remember when was the last time they had a hobby. The truth is that as early as our adolescence, we step into a myriad of never-ending testing situations of studies, higher studies, jobs, marriage and family priorities. Men and women alike, are mostly unable to find time for themselves. For us, leisure is a shopping spree, hang out with friends, munching popcorns while viewing the latest flick wearing oversized 3D specs. An annual trip with the family is now part of our status symbol: from the choice of venue to the place of booking, wardrobe and prompt posts on social media. E-readers are most handy while traveling and shaking our heads if not a leg is the norm when listening to tracks between commuting from work to home. But how about switching the phone off and reading a book? The answers are simple: we can’t afford to miss important messages or calls and we don’t have time.
Those before the generation of the millenials would strike a chord with memories of their early youth: locked inside the privacy of their rooms and hanging their heads down, yelling their lungs out to blaring music. To many of us, the cold, mechanical touch of pricey gadgets is incomparable with the crisp feel of a new book or mossy smell of an older one. For some, the morning dew drops, singing while soaking wet in the rain, muddy scent after the downpour, crunching vividly coloured autumn leaves under the feet, snow-capped mountains and treetops, soothing waves lapping at the beach – are all moments of sheer pleasure. For others, a stroke of the brush or a flick of a pencil help them to create images or texts, teleporting them to another world. Even the fumes of the spices for some are equally invigorating and the methodical steps in fixing a cuisine soul satisfying. Yet there are quite a few who get the thrill being part of a performing art, whether as a participant or as an audience.To be able to spend time somewhere or at something which one truly enjoys can be magical.
Trysts with arts or nature are not only a hobby, they can also be therapeutical. The latest issue of the Reader’s Digest reports that Japanese researchers quantified nature’s effects on the brain by sending 280 subjects for a stroll in 24 different forests while the same number of volunteers walked around city centres. The forest walkers showed a 16 percent decrease in the stress hormone cortisol. People underestimate the happiness effect of being outdoors, says Lisa Nisbet, an assistant professor of psychology in Canada. ‘We don’t think of it as a way to increase happiness. We think other things will, like shopping or TV,’ she adds. ‘We evolved in nature. It’s strange we’d be so disconnected.’
While nature’s visual elements – sunsets, streams, and butterflies – are now scientifically proven to reduce stress and anxiety, the literary elements for some, are the best cure for any malady. In a 1930 essay titled ‘The Magic of the Book’, Nobel Prize-winning German-born Swiss writer and painter Hermann Hessewrote:
Among the many worlds that man did not receive as a gift from nature but created out of his own mind, the world of books is the greatest… Without the word, without the writing of books, there is no history, there is no concept of humanity. And if anyone wants to try to enclose in a small space, in a single house or a single room, the history of the human spirit and to make it his own, he can only do this in the form of a collection of books.
But for more than a decade, print books and ebooks have been locked in a fierce competition for the attention of the reading public, market share in the publishing business, and the hearts of librarians and their patrons. Surprisingly – or maybe not, a CNN report finds that sales of e-readers declined by more than 40% between 2011 and 2016. Another data shows that hardcover print unit sales held steady over the past 5 years while ebooks declined, and hardcover books outsold ebooks in 2016 for the first time since 2011. ‘That the appeal of the physical book itself – its heft, its scent, the tactile quality of its cover, the give of the binding, the paper stock – is not a mirage that no one else can perceive. That maybe books have survived for 500 years for a reason, and maybe they’ll survive 500 more.’
The power of the brush also, it seems, is not restricted only to those who master its strokes. Yet in another issue of the Reader’s Digest, it appears that art therapy is ‘a form of psychotherapy that uses art media as its primary mode of communication.’ It’s not just for sufferers of anxiety and one-off traumatic incidents. Longer term issues such as addiction can also benefit greatly from art therapy. ‘Sometimes in talking therapy I didn’t want to talk about something in case I’d explode, have an anxiety attack,’ explains Alice, a young fine arts student who developed an eating disorder. ‘But there’s a safety in the childhood element of using colourful crayons and pencils and paper. I could draw how I was feeling instead.’
And feelings and emotions are best expressed, in the opinion of some, with the melodies and rhythms of a tune. Music along with entertainment is known to be a source of inspiration. It can be a hobby, but also has therapeutic qualities. ‘Music therapy uses music to address a number of emotional, cognitive, and social issues in people of all ages ……but the healing benefits of music can be enjoyed by anyone and at any age.’ It has been proven that music, especially pieces with a strong rhythmical element, can affect heart rate and breathing, and promote the release of endorphins, or natural painkillers. It has also been shown to reduce muscle tension, and can be very helpful in promoting relaxation. Music can also be helpful in releasing memories or negative feelings that may have been repressed, which can help to change behaviors and affect behavioral issues. Playing music can also improve skills such as communication and physical coordination.
While we spend time in coffee parties or seek solace in medicines, the answers are around us and within our reach. A walk in a nearby park, a splash of colours on paper, a room abuzz with music or hummed by the swish of papers in a book, can provide us with moments of relaxation, joy as well as solutions to troubling issues. In the hustle bustle of life and race against time, most of us either forget or simply give up on the joys of life. Taking time out for moments of solitude or favoured company is either not possible or almost a crime – a sign of negligence and disregard towards responsibilities in the opinion of the successful. In our fast-paced lives, we may not even find these trivialities important, which further widens the generation gaps and many of our elders silently long for few cherished moments with us over a cup of tea, while all we give them is a peck on the cheek and monetised tokens of love.
I sometimes smile when I see my younger one hiding under his blanket with a hefty Percy Jackson novel, giving him the thrill of his life. I give him a few warnings that it’s late in the night and he’ll end up wearing equally thick spectacles, but then I think: let him enjoy the simple pleasures of life until he grows up. His joie de vivre may end sooner than desired.