The idea that we always need to be achieving something is a very American concept. In the novel Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche notices that people in the United States "spend a lot of time doing, instead of being." Many of us are thinking about the next task, rather than the current moment, and we tend to quantify those accomplishments to help give them meaning. I am very, very guilty of this.
Due to my recently-overloaded schedule, I haven't been able to do much running lately, but I did find some time yesterday to do about seven miles. I had been thinking to myself, "I need to exercise. I'm going to gain weight if I don't get out there soon." Like many Americans, I associate "healthy" with "thin" and I'm often more worried about my calorie count than my body's basic nutrient needs. These are natural associations that go along with a very American way of living -- counting numbers, calculating stats, thinking of life as a series of equations that need to be solved.
My French friend commented on this phenomena the other day, telling me: "It's because you all grow up watching baseball, keeping track of batting averages, and figuring out who's best based on statistics rather than on-field play. Us? We play soccer. We don't care about the stats. We basically just run around for a while until something good eventually happens. That's a metaphor for French life, really."
When I got back from my run yesterday morning I was in a great mood. I had forgotten the other main reason why I like to go jogging: it makes me feel amazing! It's not just about maintaining my weight, making sure I burn off the necessary calories, and keeping my metabolic rate high. Those are the statistical aspects I tend to obsess about, but they're all secondary to the sense of happiness that blankets my soul after I finish a long route.
My French friend was right. If I run long enough, forget about all the statistical benefits, and focus on the moment, something good always happens eventually. I end up remembering that running is an enjoyment, rather than a responsibility. There's an easy analogy for whisky embedded in that philosophy.