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Article

Illumination: The Other Value of “Stay-at-home”

Dad and son playing with cardboard airplane

BY: BILL COPPEL

One positive outcome that has emerged from having to stay-at-home has been the opportunity to see a side of life I previously only understood from a secondhand perspective. Pre Covid-19, my daily routine consisted largely of working in, and commuting to and from, a traditional office setting. Work consumed up to 12 hours a day, leaving me about 4 hours of “awake-time” to tend to the rest of what life offers – I’ve been a big believer in getting at least 7 hours of sleep and 1 hours exercise daily since well before the pandemic.

While the interaction at work can be important for our well-being, it is only a part of the happiness formula. How we connect with one another is a leading predictor to one’s overall happiness. And hence, no time like stay-at-home to punctuate that point.

Staying at home has raised an interesting question for me… how well do I use my remaining awake-time? Pre-quarantine, I gobbled up 3 of those hours under the heading of “me-time”. That’s the time I claimed for the things that I prioritized; tending to work items that can’t wait until tomorrow, paying bills, household chores (only outside or in the garage of course), playing guitar and of course procrastination. That left me just an hour or so to interact with family. Hum? Let’s break that down.

I’d spend 15 minutes, broken into 3 minute sound-bites interacting with my 13 year old daughter addressing an A to Z assortment of issues, experiencing a multitude of emotions, across an equally large topic spectrum. Another 15 minutes debating the virtues of making one’s bed, picking up after one’s self, putting dishes in the dishwasher and managing one’s time productively, in alternating 3 minute increments, in highly charged exchanges with my 16 year old son. Then, there is the attempt to enjoy a meal with the family – another 15 minutes, action packed, edgy experience, punctuated by revisiting thorny matters replayed by my kids from the aforementioned conversations.

So now we are down to the last 15 minutes of that precious hour. This time is reserved for challenging my wife on every decision she did or did not make that day, delivered with accelerating gusto. As a result, I am forced to take back 60 minutes from my me time to sulk having been appropriately reminded of how out of touch I am with the reality of life beyond my 24/7 digital existence. By the way, she runs her own successful design studio in addition to managing everything in our family life.

Hence, illumination; the other value of this stay-at-home moment in time. Illumination.

Here’s what I’m learning.

First, use this time wisely, it is a healing gift. As I explained to my daughter, in 5 short years, she’ll be embarking on her life journey to independence. These few short months of stay-at-home can provide a lasting experience far more valuable than what would be taking place under “normal circumstance.” Stop, reflect, explore, and challenge yourself to find your passion and perhaps evaluate priorities. We will spend more time together defining the future by living in the present and that will create lasting memories binding us even closer.

Second, maybe making your bed is not that important when it comes to defining what matters to you. This stay-at-home time with my son has provided me a more vivid view into his life. And remarkably, it does not always sync up with how I set priorities. This revelation, while obvious on the surface, can be a debilitating force in genuinely connecting with one another. It reminds me that we are all different, we are all valuable in our uniqueness and most of all, we need to stop judging and learn to appreciate the beauty that comes with our diversity.

Third, our reliance on social media platforms has atrophied our ability to relate with full-on, unvarnished vulnerability.  Authentic relating is an essential human need and critical to our emotional, mental and physical well-being. While our ability to connect with family and friends outside of our home during this time has benefited from these amazing digital ecosystems in the palm of our hand, staying at home can revitalize our ability to go from continuously looking down and to making real eye contact and meaningful connections.

In my work as host of our podcast, The Next Frontier, I have the opportunity to talk with many interesting and informed guests about their thoughts around well-being. Many of our guests are scientists, journalists and noted experts in a variety of fields of study. My friend, Dr. Tim Bono, professor of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis, author, and noted well-being expert and upcoming guest on The Next Frontier, recently shared with me that human connections are at the heart of what defines happiness. Indeed it is. Perhaps a not-so-surprising benefit that will stay with me long after we return to the office. I encourage you to use stay at home to rekindle this ancient and exquisite human quality. It will serve you for a lifetime.

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