on August 30, 2005
There is little question, it seems to me, that most Americans living in this new century of ours are suffering from a condition one might refer to as the "stressed-out" syndrome. (And the really unfortunate thing is that this is true of young people as well, some of them barely into their teenage years.) Many of us are working harder, trying to raise families while advancing a career, competing obsessively in the marketplace for that promotion, striving to keep up with the Jones next door, hoping that the pay check will last until the end of the month, and, well, you get the point. Are we simply condemned to this malady by the realities of modern life, or is there a way of successfully meeting this challenge and conquering it? Dr. Kathleen Hall, the author of this book and one of our nation's leading authorities on stress management, thinks there is and she calls it "living an intentional life."
This is a self-help book, to be sure. Many of you probably think as I do: most self-help books are so full of psycho-babble, unrealistic expectations, impractical advice, dogmatic prescriptions, and are so far out of touch with the actual world in which most of us live, that they seem to be written only to make some quick money for the author. I assure you this is not the case with Dr. Hall's book. Believe me, I look hard for incidences of psycho-babble in self-help books (it's one of my pet peeves) and I could not find a single case of it here. In sum, she has outlined a simple, easy-to-read, very practical and, above all, undogmatic, blueprint for living an intentional life.
The "intentional" life, Dr. Hall says, has three simple ingredients: awareness, choice, and energy. These are not sequential; it is simply necessary to "become aware of these three key elements in your life and learn how to navigate them." She emphasizes that we ought to look at our daily experiences, listen to what our body and mind are telling us, and become more conscious of how we are living our lives and how we want to live them. If I could put this general prescription into my own words, I would say she is proposing living a "proactive" life as opposed to a "reactive" life, and most people do seem to mostly "react" to the situations they encounter in life rather than make a proactive choice.
There is absolutely nothing complex about the prescriptions in this book regarding how to live an intentional life. Above all, they are very down-to-earth; very much a matter of applied "common sense." It is simply that so many people, if not the majority in today's hectic world, either "forget" to pay attention to these simple ideas or are stressed out and distracted by the events surrounding them. The author here is really recommending that we all need, now and then, to "stop and smell the roses," so to speak.
But, of course, there is much more than that presented. She gets down to the "nitty-gritty," shall we say, and, chapter by chapter, discusses everything from making your morning shower an event for setting the stage for your day, suggesting gardening (even though you may have to plant a "mini-garden" in your bathroom) as a means of reclaiming your roots to the soil, altering your dinner experience at home so you have "dined well," and, yes, even how to turn dishwashing into a unique and fulfilling experience. To point out the range of "ordinary" daily experiences she discusses, just let me say that Chapter One is entitled "Waking Up" and Chapter Twenty-four is entitled "Sleeping." Between those two points of reference are chapters devoted to most of the other daily activities we perform and encounters we experience (breakfast, commuting, working, leisure, family, etc.). Furthermore, most chapters end with a suggestion as to how to "alter your life" in the area discussed.
What I like most about Dr. Hall's book is that it is sound, pragmatic, and undogmatic. It deals with the simple pleasures we can experience in our lives, if only we would pay attention to them rather than ignore them or get distracted by other things which contribute to our "stressed-out" syndrome. Since I am by education, inclination, and choice, a philosopher in the formal sense (and an Aristotelian realist, at that!), let me conclude with a more philosophical observation.
Aristotle's famous work, the "Nicomachean Ethics," was written to provide us with a blueprint for living "a life worth living." His book is, in my opinion and in the opinion of many others, the only sound, pragmatic, and undogmatic work in moral philosophy within the Western tradition of intellectual thought. I have used those same words (sound, pragmatic, undogmatic) to describe Dr. Hall's "Alter Your Life." I think this is justified. Furthermore, I suspect that Aristotle, if he were living today, would also approve of her work; he was, after all, that most practical and commonsensical of philosophers. His "Ethics" was a manual on how to put together a "good life" through the practice of the virtues; hers is a manual on how to deal with the stresses of this contemporary world or, if you will, how to live a "good life" through the practice of intentional living in spite of the stresses surrounding us. I think Aristotle and Dr. Hall would have gotten along famously.
I recommend this book and my fellow males should not shy away from reading this book. After all, women on the average live longer than we males do, and it may be (at least partially) because they are willing to seek help and guidance rather than face stressful conditions alone. I know men tend to avoid self-help books because they consider them to be "for women." This is unfortunate. Men also need to learn strategies, even the simple ones suggested in this book, in order to live a healthy and meaningful life.