Friday, November 19, 2010

Seven steps to stress-free; one step to joy thinks it knows what I should read. And so it regularly gives me recommendations. I understand where these recommendations come from – most of the time. They come from an algorithm that relates books I’ve not purchased to books I have purchased, or at least viewed. Or else it makes connections based on gifts I’ve ordered for other people that have no relation to my own interests at all: for example, three years ago I bought my brother-in-law a home-brewing kit and I’m still getting recommendations from Amazon that I buy “Make Moonshine by Midnight” and similar quick-help guides to homemade spirits. My son likes fantasy fiction, so plenty of covers featuring dragons and knights march across my Amazon home page. And, like a lot of people, I took a quick peek last week to see what all the fuss over Amazon’s suddenly questionable sales standards involved, so I will apparently be getting recommendations for how-to books that, if the instructions within were followed, would probably land me in jail.

But sometimes I’ll see a recommendation that is neither quite so off-the-wall as the moonshine handbooks nor quite so obviously targeted as a new novel by a writer whose last book I bought. And then I just look at the title and say, “You think I should read that? Yeah, maybe. I suppose it might make sense…”

This was the case when earlier this week Amazon’s recommendation for me was “Addicted to Stress: A Woman's 7 Step Program to Reclaim Joy and Spontaneity In Life.”

“Addicted to stress?” I mused, puzzled. “I’m not addicted to stress. I’m not even that stressed.” Sure, I have plenty of plates to spin at once, from work assignments to the kids’ activities to volunteer tasks to household upkeep to planning for the upcoming holidays. But stressed? Not overly. And, moreover, addicted to stress? I don’t think so.

Yet the title made me wonder. Seven steps to reclaim joy and spontaneity in life? On the one hand, that sounded like a lot of meticulously prescribed steps in order to reach spontaneity. (Follow all of these steps but then forget you ever followed them, because the important thing is to reach this state without trying.) On the other hand, joy and spontaneity in life? Seven steps seems like a rather small price to pay for that desirable outcome.

I couldn’t quite decide whether I was truly stressed or just busy, and I couldn’t decide whether I was lacking joy and spontaneity or, like most people, just have a few unsatisfied wishes and a few unmet goals. Then I received my “Word for the Day” email from an organization called A Network for Grateful Living. This isn’t really a word in the sense of a vocabulary word; it’s a quote. And on that particular day the quote was this: “O how I laugh when I think of my vague indefinite riches. No run on my bank can drain it, for my wealth is not possession but enjoyment.”

That’s by Henry David Thoreau. He did not use the word stress. He did not suggest seven steps. Just as he went to the woods to live deliberately, he made joy a simple thing too: “my wealth is not possession but enjoyment.” Somehow that quote told me I didn’t need seven steps, or a book, to find my joy. I just needed to remember these essential words from Thoreau: joy, the concept as well as the word itself, is to be found inside of enjoyment. Remembering to take pleasure in all we have, rather than stressing out about all we need to do, is the best stress-reliever we will ever find. No seven steps. No steps at all. Just remembering to be joyful is joy enough, and I was so glad to be reminded of these words at just that moment.

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