he Five Love Languages are the five different ways in which we give and receive love. They are: words of affirmation (kind and complimentary words), quality time, acts of service (helping someone), and physical touch. Of the five languages, quality time stands out as being a bit more subtle than the others. Quality time is sometimes called “presence” or “being present.”
It’s important to fully understand and absorb this particular love language into your lives for two reasons. Firstly, because women in particular often choose to lean on each other and share their time with one another as a way of bonding, feeling better, and decreasing stress. Showing love by giving someone your full attention is very special, particularly in our world that moves so quickly and encourages fleeting and shallow relationships. Learning how to be present will likely help you and enable you to help others.
The Simon family lost their entire house in one morning when a water main broke and the three floors of their home were completely flooded. For many months the family moved from one temporary location to another while the insurance company stalled. Racheli referred to it as “chill time,” while her mother called it “visiting,” but both mother and daughter agreed that being with friends was the perfect antidote to the long months of displacement as their home was being gutted and totally reconstructed.
Secondly, we need to work on presence and quality time because of the extent that technology is present in our lives. With quick texts, short-form texting lingo, and ever-present buzzing, technology can create pizur hanefesh, scattered and distracted lives. In studies done comparing distraction or concentration at different age levels, younger people reported having more trouble avoiding the pull of their devices. They are more likely to slavishly check their phones for the hint of a possible incoming message or to see if they missed one. In one study, more than three-quarters of teens and young adults responded “yes” to the following statement: “When nothing is occupying my attention, the first thing I do is reach for my phone.” This shows the lack of comfort that many people feel just “being present” or living in the moment. Simply pausing and thinking to oneself when nothing in particular is calling for your attention is going out of style!
Our attachment to our devices also creates anxiety. People who continually check their phones and worry about missing out on something report higher stress levels than those who do it less frequently. We also tend to do things with a greater degree of shallowness. This in itself can be stressful. One amazing finding by Dr. Adam Gazzaley, coauthor of The Distracted Mind, is that we don’t really multitask. We think that we can do many things simultaneously. In actuality we do one thing at a time but switch rapidly between tasks, often attending to each in a superficial way. We encounter distractions and interruptions that interfere with our ability to set goals and work things through. We may plan to finish a paper/recipe/sentence, but our phone signals an incoming message and we drop everything in one anxious swoop. Even more frightening, we sometimes decide, without any trigger from the outside, that we “must” check our phones immediately. Once attention has been diverted, it is hard to get back to your original goal or thought.
At a shiur, the speaker praised Shabbos as being “25 hours of privacy and serenity.” Chaya confided in her aunt that she found herself so uncomfortable with the downtime on Shabbos afternoons. “I am so used to checking in with friends on my phone, seeing if anyone messaged me, and keeping up. A whole day of media blackout makes me wonder every hour what I am missing.”
Researchers offer practical strategies, backed by science and good judgment, to fight distraction.
- You don’t need to give up your devices, as long as they are being used in permissible ways, but you should consciously use them in a balanced way. Conscious presence to combat scatteredness is the way to go. Ayala had just met with her teacher, Mrs. Reich. Besides the great conversation, she came away with an amazing tool. While they had been talking, a call came in on her teacher’s cell phone. Ayala graciously offered to wait while she took the call, to which Mrs. Reich replied, “No way, I’m with you now. I don’t even look. If it’s not my home ringtone it can wait.”
“Aren’t you going to even check who it is?” Ayala wondered aloud. “Not unless I want to get distracted and mentally pulled out of this great conversation with you,” her teacher had said, smiling.
- Safeguard quality time. One mother pledged to keep her phone in her purse for the first hour after her children came home from school. Another group of friends chose to have one shared cell phone (for safety purposes) with them when they went out together, but all individuals left their phones at home. This creates a lack of temptation to catch everything on camera, to check for incoming messages, or to flip through old messages or information for entertainment. In short, it leaves space to stay grounded in the moment and be fully “there.”
- Another strategy is to work up slowly to tolerating boredom and not rushing to fill the bored space with another distracting activity. When Shaindy was about to start a new needlepoint, she invited her sister to come buy yarn with her. Shaindy was a patient teacher and would have been happy to demonstrate how to sew. “No thanks,” was the response, “I have zero tolerance for boredom.” In one Harvard University study, younger workers had greater difficulty devoting their energies to tedious tasks and being bored, whereas older people are often better trained to be patient with complex tasks. The study hypothesized that the younger workers couldn’t tolerate being bored for more than a few seconds at a time! However, when one is mildly bored, and their mind not filled, they can focus well and be present. Mild boredom may actually be a good thing. There’s a certain amount of boredom that comes with learning. At the beginning of any new experience, the going is slow. You have to tolerate not being good at something yet and needing to learn from mistakes.
What now? If you work on yourself to stay present, you will learn to appreciate the dual gifts of being less stressed and less corrupted by technology. Rapid task-switching, flitting between devices, thoughts, conversations, and images all combine to create a scattered life. Quality time means being with someone and staying focused, truly listening to another person. As you practice being present, you will find many examples of its magic at work. In your relationship with your parents you will be able to appreciate how much a parent being present is so meaningful. From the other side, it will become clear how much a child’s presence helps creates powerful quality time as well. Here’s wishing us all the joys of being fully present and making quality time a priority.
(Originally featured inTeen Pages, Issue 744)