Learn to embrace the joy of saying “no”
“It may have something to do with turning 40, and I don’t know for sure, but I’d rather be at home these days,” my friend said.
An effervescent, socially secure and successful artist, businesswoman and mom, who is both politically aware and community-driven, she’s also fully focused on the greater good, and doesn’t hole up behind gated walls, counting her blessings and ignoring the world at large.
She’s not alone, either, in her attitude. In his short, pithy video titled The Joy of Saying No, British comedian and writer Russell Brand explains why saying "no" more often is a viable antidote to that curse of modern-day living – burn-out.
We often agree to get involved, or go to, stuff, he explains, because we may experience Fomo (“fear of missing out”) or believe that there must be something to gain by going.
Saying no, however, is an acknowledgement that, as you are now, you’re perfectly fine; declining to be involved in something, whether for a few hours or a couple of days, isn’t going to necessarily have a negative impact on your life.
Brand, in fact, is quite “happy and content” to be more involved in “pastoral activities” these days, such as pottering around at home, or mucking about with his children. For celebrities, that’s the gold standard of relaxation, considering the jet-setting, transient life flavour they’ve chosen.
The subtle difference between saying no to transient stuff – parties, frequent drinks meet-ups, highly stressful job opportunities, no matter how attractive – and saying yes to making the world a better place, is key.
Doing good works and deeds, and building a solid foundation for whatever life you’ve chosen – or aspire to have – isn’t the point here. The issue, quite simply, is understanding our motivation for saying “yes” to things, even when we don’t want them.
As Brand argues, he’s less wiling to be defined by what he does in the outside world and, by association, less defined by what people think of him.
Therefore, if being in pyjamas early on a Friday is what your soul needs, then that’s the right decision to make, rather than scrubbing up and sighing your shoes into a cocktail event that won’t truly benefit you (or your family, friends or community, in many cases) at day’s end.
Brand links this “yes” mentality to a running anxiety – the sense that he should always be working, and that, if he is not, then he isn’t a valuable or worthwhile person.
Saying “no” to activity, he says, is actually inviting other aspects of life to the forefront, permitting the possibility that more quiet, less vivid and less exciting activity may have deeper nutritional value after all.
My happy-hermit artist friend and I may not see each other often – since we’re both firmly in Brand’s camp – but when we do, we’re wonderfully connected.
We know that our friendship doesn’t depend on constant contact. And that the space one creates in silence and solitude is a necessary pause in a frenetic, inside-out world.