Pam Lobley has been a columnist and writer for many publications, including the New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, Huffington Post, BlogHer, and others.
She’s also the author of the book Why Can’t We Just Play?: What I Did When I Realized My Kids Were Way Too Busy.
Pam Lobley’s work reminds me of my one-minute video about “The days are long, but the years are short.” You can watch it here. It also reminds me of my resolution in my book Happier at Home, to “guard my children’s free time.”
I couldn’t wait to talk to Pam about happiness, habits, and productivity.
Gretchen: What’s something you know now about building healthy habits or happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
Pam: When I was 18, I figured happiness would be found in grand adventures, success, and accomplishments. But I have found that my deepest happiness has come not from the extraordinary days, but from the ordinary ones. Big accomplishments and milestones do bring happiness, but they can also bring stress, change and pressure. A new job or a book publishing deal are wonderful, but they also can mean taking on new and difficult tasks and pressures. A fancy vacation is delightful, but the expense, scheduling and unexpected disappointments can diminish the joyful feeling – like the time we took the kids to Disney and they weren’t that interested in the rides. They just kept asking when could we go back to the hotel and swim in the pool!
Running into a good friend while I’m walking the dog or driving to the orthodontist with my son and talking about his day … these regular moments bring me so much happiness, notably because they are built in to my life and occur naturally. Realizing that they make me happy leads me to another realization – my life is a happy one! This kind of appreciation of the present moment would not have been possible for me to understand at age 18.
Gretchen: Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?
Pam: I hate to admit this, but I am not that organized. I think I am, and I always have a to-do list, but in reality everything takes longer than I think it will, I let stuff slide left and right, and then I end up late and rushing. Rushing kills my joy every time. That feeling of being behind and trying to finish a few things before time runs out is so distracting and defeating. The rushing itself makes me unhappy, then it compounds itself because I tend to make bad decisions or feel irritation when I am rushed – and that leads to further unhappiness.
Gretchen: Which habits are most important to you? (for health, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, etc.)
Pam: I need 7+ hours of sleep a night, I exercise several times a week, I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, and I get outside for some time every day. Without these things I am super cranky and definitely not creative.
Gretchen: Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?
Pam: Questioner! Questioning the conventional wisdom of raising children today is what led me to write my book Why Can’t We Just Play? What I Did When I Realized My Kids Were Way Too Busy. I asked myself, “Why is our family life so overscheduled, and when did parenting get to overwrought and frantic?” I answered it by removing all our activities for an entire summer, and letting my sons, ages 8 and 10 at that time, “just” play. Because we had NO scheduled activities, no camps, no classes – nothing but play and free time – I wryly referred to that summer as “a summer from the 1950s” and read and researched that era as the weeks went by. Adopting the 1950s mindset offered sharp perspective of current family values. Was that decade a better time to raise children? Well, it certainly was a simpler time. People did not check emails at midnight or enroll their 12 year olds in travel baseball leagues with 4 games a week.
We think of the 1950s as a time when conformity reigned supreme, but there is plenty of conformity in this era as well. The pressure to control and improve your children, and to micromanage their days is true for the vast majority of middle class families. Once I got off that merry-go-round, I saw my kids more clearly. They needed tremendous amounts of down time, and they were growing up in a world which provided almost none. In addition, I became aware that the more we rushed around, the faster I felt they grew up, and the less time I had to enjoy simply being with them. Being a Questioner is the reason I had the idea, and then the stamina, to carry out that experiment.
Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”) Or a quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful? Or a particular book that has stayed with you?
Pam: I love that line from the James Taylor song, “The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time…” I’m somewhat obsessed with the passage of time. I am constantly aware of how precious our time on earth is, how quickly kids grow up, how life can change in an instant, of how memories we create are kept alive. Resisting the urge to do more, building free time our family’s schedule is something I strive for daily, though not always successfully. Savoring days when the kids are growing up is especially important to me, but every stage of life has its treasures and opportunities, and I don’t want to blur past them. A phone call with my sister, planning a party with my husband, shopping with my teen for his prom tux … rather than pressing through those tasks, I remind myself to take my time. Let those moments be ones of happiness. Let things take longer. Let’s take the pressure off, and enjoy the passage of time.