The Underappreciation of Rest in Today’s Society


“What is without periods of rest will not endure.” —Ovid

Recently, I spent a few weeks on vacation. The time was filled with travel, reconnecting with family, playing golf, swimming, sleeping, and reading. As you can probably imagine, it was quite enjoyable. But more than that, it was desperately needed.

Consider the benefits that rest offers:

  • a healthier body.
  • more balance.
  • less stress.
  • deeper relationships.
  • better opportunity to evaluate life’s direction.
  • a new, fresh outlook.
  • increased productivity.

Yet, despite all the proven benefits of rest, intentionally setting aside regular time for rest is a practice that has become undervalued and underappreciated in today’s culture. We have become overworked, overstressed, and exhausted. Yet, Sabbath (setting aside one day each week for rest) remains a dying practice that less and less people practice regularly (never mind the idea of actually taking a two-week vacation).

Overlooking the importance of rest is certainly not unique to our modern society. But our culture has made it increasingly difficult to take rest without specific intentionality.

Consider some of the factors prevalent in our modern society that argue against the idea of rest:

• Rest has become confused with laziness. We live in a society that praises those who work 60hrs/week and makes faulty assumptions about those who work 40. We have confused rest with laziness. And while too much rest may indeed be an indicator of sloth, the regular practice of finding rest is not.

• The desire for money has become unquenchable. Modern society loves money. We love it to a point that we will sacrifice much of ourselves to gain more of it. Some sacrifice morals, character, or family. Others consider rest a fair trade… and will gladly sacrifice it at the altar of the almighty dollar.

• Success is measured incorrectly. Similarly, we have begun to measure success by the amount of cash in savings, the size of our homes, or the model of our cars. The nicer one’s lot in life, the more successful they must be. Unfortunately, this is a faulty measure of success. The true test of success should be measured in significance rather than success. But often times finding significance requires us to rest long enough to recalibrate our lives around the things that matter most.

• We live in a world that is always “on”. While electricity may have made it easier to work late into the night, the Internet has surrounded us with opportunities and relationships 24 hours/day. Today’s world never stops. And when the possibility to make money every hour of the day is combined with the desire to do so, rest quickly gets pushed aside.

• A false sense of urgency surrounds us at every moment. We live in a world that floods our minds with so much information that it has become difficult to sort out the important from the unimportant. As a result, the urgent needs of the day crowd out the important. And rest puts up little fight against the urgent.

• Our minds require distraction. Our minds have become addicted to stimulation and validation. As a result, it has become increasingly difficult to turn off E-mail, Facebook, or Twitter… not to mention cell phones, televisions, or the Internet. And when our minds begin to require distraction, rest becomes an increasingly difficult state to achieve.

• Rest cannot be rushed. Modern society loves shortcuts. We desire 15-minute abs, 30-minute meals, and 1-hour photos. Unfortunately, rest can never be rushed. It must be entered deliberately and allowed to complete its cycle in due time. By definition, this requires patience… and a cleared schedule.

• A misunderstanding that rest is purely physical. Rest is physical. But it is more than that. It is mental, emotional, and spiritual. It is an understanding that the world is going to survive without you. It is an inner strength that allows you to disconnect from accomplishing “work” and focus on yourself and those around you. It is not mere physical leisure. It is rest: body and soul.

I have worked hard to keep a day of rest as an important part of my life and weekly routine. But it is an upward battle that requires relentless intentionality—we live in a culture that has far too often underappreciated its value.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. says

    What great timing! I’m reading this as I’m exhausted and know I should already be in bed, but can’t seem to get there. I would LOVE a break to just rest. However, with two young kiddos and a husband who has to work lots of hours just to make our miniscule budget, it’s not so much an option. But it’s desperately needed (already landed in the ER once this year from dehydration). What is your solution for those of us who have to work so hard just to put food on the table? Actually just posted about this financial issue of wanting things to be easier, but the way our society is (and the cost of it all) is not allowing us to get to a place where we can afford a rest.

    • says

      Megyn, I’d make a small goal of intentional, weekly rest and then try to keep it. If one day/week seems too much at first, shoot for just one afternoon that you can set aside time each week. And don’t make it too complicated… a 1-2 hour nap may be just what you need. Planning an easy, recurring dinner idea would also be helpful on those days.

      • Jenn says

        Megyn I can relate! I’ve got 3 kiddos 5,4,2 and a husband who works long hours. Joshua no offense, I love your blog and most of what you right, but when I read “1-2 hour nap” I laughed out loud. If you’re the primary caregiver of young kids, that is not likely to happen on any sort of a regular basis. (unless they are also willing to nap. at the same time.)

        I don’t have a good solution, I am always tired too. But one thing that helps me is to separate the idea of physical rest from mental rest. Honestly I need the mental break more many days, and i find it easier to make room for in my life…I often get up early to steal some time by myself. I find I actually have more energy the days I get up at 5 to go for a walk or a run, even though I gave up sleep to do so. It’s so important to carve out some time for a “sanity break.”

        I don’t have any family in the area, so I’ve also worked hard to form a community of moms around me to help share the load. Sometimes we’ll do playdates where each one tags out for an hour or so, or even take each other’s kids for the afternoon. It’s a chance to be alone without having to come up with money for a sitter. Hope you find a way to catch a break! Oh, and before you go to bed fill up a few water bottles and stash them in a central place – I like the ones with a straw top so you don’t need hands. Take a swig every time you walk by. No good to be in the ER dehydrated!

        • Sarah says

          If you have a supportive network who takes the kids for an hour or so at a time, then you DO have time for an hour nap. Excuses.

          • Rebecca S. says

            Megyn…If you haven’t already done so, take a look at your budget to see if there are areas you can cut to lighten the financial burden. We used to think we were frugal until we reviewed our actual spending vs. what we thought we were spending. WOW – that was an eye-opener. Lots of insidious costs disguised as needs (which were actually conveniences). Also, double check your diet and make sure you’re getting good nutrition. Supplement if need be. Best of luck!

  2. says

    Thank you for the reminder Joshua.

    @Megyn, when I go through long periods of hectic days and little sleep, I find that 5-minute meditation sessions, sprinkled throughout the day, help me slow down, get perspective and eliminate stress. I feel much better after each session.

  3. says

    The necessity of rest is evident in a toddler’s missed nap time tantrums or crankiness, but adults too need to recognize the symptoms of too little rest—impaired creativity, lower work output and more. Your reminders ring true. Children—and adults—need rest.

  4. says

    While I agree the physical rest is very important, your last point, about the misunderstanding that rest is purely physical is such a key point. Even if we do manage to take some time “off”, unless we intentionally, with determination, work to slow our minds down and rest our psyche, we still end up with an an exhausted overloaded brain after vacation or a long weekend.
    While I am making this observation, it is not something that I have fully achieved either, it is a constant battle in our society.
    Great post Joshua!
    Is your busyness covering up pain?

  5. says

    Outstanding discussion of the importance of downtime. Thanks for the post. I especially honed in on the idea that we overwork ourselves because we misapprehend the definition of “success”.
    We must each redefine prosperity for ourselves.
    Thanks again

  6. laura says

    Besides a decent nights sleep, rest can mean doing anything relaxing, like going to a state park and walking the trails, the beaches, etc. I know of people who keep working way past retirement and don’t live long enough to retire as they have to keep getting “stuff” or whatever. The simpler life, with less consuming, makes more time for all this. I prefer vacations away from people as he and I are more reclusive in retirement, and like to get out in nature.

  7. says

    Thank you for this post. I am a prime example of a person who can never stop. I don’t know how to relax unless I am completely exhausted or have the flu. I know I have to change this, and I reading and learning to start changing my life. :)

  8. says

    I read your article with great interest since over the years, I felt “picked on” for needing or wanting downtime. Like many others, the drive to achieve overshadows everything else and the very last thing we want to do is be perceived as weak or lazy or, heaven forbid, incompetent.

    Thank you for the reminder that we all need to rest. And that the need for rest comes with no excuses!

    — Gaye

    • says

      I completely agree with that, Gaye – especially now we’re running our own business. We have a little bookshop and I sometimes have to remind my mum that althought we COULD open later, and we COULD open extra days during holiday seasons, it’s not something that’s necessarily a good thing. She sees a missed opportunity to make money; I see a vital opportunity to rest. Ironically, the busier the season, the more important it is NOT to be at work all the time, because we need our time off more to stay motivated and healthy!

  9. says

    “A false sense of urgency surrounds us at every moment” – this one really resonates with me as I find it so difficult to step back and realise that if something doesn’t get done straight away or things don’t happen in the order I expect them to then the whole world won’t fall apart. Creating these false sense of urgency moments against our own selves increases stress levels considerable and is something I battle with on a daily basis.

  10. says

    I always feel like I’m catching up on sleep. It’s a never ending race.

    Love me some vacations as well. Always a good time to rest your mind, reflect and re-energize.

    Glad you enjoyed your time and thank you for all you do.

    – Brad

  11. says

    Great to read about this. I really struggle with the concept of rest. And while I also value the observance of a or the Sabbath, I struggle with the concept of rest outside of that. I guilt my husband when he naps (even though he is ridiculously hard-working otherwise and successful and all these things… I still have it in my mind that if there is time for a nap, there is time to contribute more). And I truly struggled with the decision to resign from my job at Yale which I’ve recently written about. I think your first and third bullet are the ones that I fall victim too, that I’m currently working through on the other end of having chose to resign and go from working 65hrs/wk to less than 40. I want to define success in a whole new way, I’m working on it, but the feedback loops telling me I’ve made an unwise decision are strong, but I’m learning that the voice of those loops are voices I do not trust or desire to be like. And those I respect and desire to model my life after are encouraging of these changes and attempts to redefine life in our young marriage and family. It is a journey I am less reluctant, and more thrilled to be on each day.

  12. says

    I’ve heard that rest actually tells us how “well we can work.” The better we are able to rest the less we are controlled by, and so can flourish, in our jobs. The idea that laziness is confused with rest is truly sad. When work/profit become the bottom line, there is never enough, never fulfillment, never some “holy sadness” to give us a sense of rootedness in who we are, where we are.

    You mention “sabbath”–we’re lucky enough not to have to, but it’s often an excuse for extra activity. Sabbath, for me “intimates a time of shalom,” when everyone would work, and play and enjoy, and delight would be the true end of man.

  13. Anne says

    I ignored everything that you talk about for over two decades. Then one day my mind, body and soul called time out. Nearly a year into my enforced ‘rest’ my mind is finally slowing down and I am beginning to feel rested. With hindsight it has been a blessing but it has taken time to get to that viewpoint and to stop feeling like a lazy failure.

    My change had to be extreme because I was so stressed, so busy, so competitive, so perfectionist etc, etc that I was in the end just so sick.

    I am really enjoying the minimalism sites like yours they are 100% relevant to how I am rebuilding my life and I thank you. I want to be a lesson that others can learn from me, not bitter experience: rest as you go, not for one year out of twenty!!

    Thx :-)

  14. Stevo says

    Rest is not appreciated in this society and in this day & age. I agree. It’s as if the world is going to somehow get worse by people being less busy. Too many times we get the words busy and productive confused. To be truly productive you have to let your mind, body, and spirit recharge. Good article

  15. says

    Hi Joshua,

    I was just about ready to start my Sunday morning email catch-up, which I’ve been doing now for several months. After reading this, I’m closing up the computer and simply enjoying my day of rest. Thank you.

  16. Kathy says

    Wow. Josh’s thoughts resonated and some of the comments brought tears to my eyes! Guys, focus and chill! Naps were mandatory when I grew up – I didn’t have to sleep, but I did have to stay in my room and entertain myself (another lost art). Work vs lunch: please stop, step outside, and eat the salad/sandwich/leftovers that you brought. Not drinking enough water?? I can’t even conceive what that means! Vacations should be a time of experience and education, not a reboot. I moved after 25 years living in Manhattan to Florida. Making lots less money and loving my life so much more! So often we blame our current circumstances for all our woes when it really comes down to our inability to change. Buck up and take the plunge! You have no idea how amazing your life can be!!

  17. Bronwyn says

    Sometimes chasing the dollar is about surviving, not worshiping materialism. Even ion this essay ostensibly on the value of rest & simplifying, there’s a reference to sloth. Let someone else make that argument.

    • beth says

      Hear, hear!

      If you decide to change your life so that you work less, live on less and have more time for rest, family, friends and passions, our market-mindset society is going to discriminate against you in seen and unseen ways. it is HARD to decide that you want to live some other way that lies outside “established” — and socially enforced — norms. When I gave up my full-time job as a bike mechanic to pursue my dream as a freelance musician and teacher, it was a hard adjustment — not only because people judged me for not working 40 hours on the clock, but because my “inner committee” judged me too.
      It has been a long process to quiet those voices and pursue my passion.
      Having supportive people around helps! They are the ones that remind me (1) that what I do matters and (2) that needing a nap does NOT mean I’m lazy. We all need to rest in order to recharge.

  18. Suzanne says

    Josh, thank you. I am coming to value rest as I get older. I am tired of all the striving and I am ready to pare down and live more simply. Money is not at the top of my list–peace is.

  19. says

    You have a way of seeing clearly to the heart of an issue and explaining it so well. I used to feel completely trapped by my own perspective – that the amount I did, how busy I was = how successful and valued and worthy I was. Resting felt lazy, unproductive and like I was missing out if I didn’t keep going and keep ‘producing’. Took me a long time and health problems to wake up to the fact it was all an illusion. Thanks for writing this post, it’s a great one to share with others to help shift paradigms, will definitely pass it on to others!
    Bernadette :)

  20. says

    I was just thinking tonight how desperate I feel for a a break, to be away from everything to give my mind and spirit a rest. But the break I really need is from inside my own head, from the grief that is dragging me down, physically, emotionally and mentally and that is a much harder thing to achieve.

  21. Maha Laxmi says

    Whenever we talk of “busy lives” – we tend to think “pursuit of money”. However too often at least for the employed salaried people, it is about helplessly being shoved into a schedule that is too demanding, sometimes even eating up into sleep time that one naturally needs and craves for. Being a minimalist can be difficult in such situations – when you can be forced to work unreasonable hours and given a promotion in return, when all you were looking for was a decent livelihood, work/life balance, and a peaceful life. Achieving is not an option – it is required just to be able to earn a living – so what if the salary is high/low – its more about the career you land yourself into – and then what happens next just happens – be it an easy life, or a crazy unbalanced life….

  22. says

    The true test of success should be measured in significance rather than [financial] success. But often times finding significance requires us to rest long enough to recalibrate our lives around the things that matter most.

  23. esha says

    Thanks for an amazing post. I have been following you and leo for some time now. But its difficult to apply what you say. I am an anaesthesiologist working in government hospital in a developing country and i have a 2 year old. I don’t work long hours because of money but its just the way my duty hours are. I am always tired but how to take rest?

  24. Rachel says

    I hear you.
    Sometimes loving God means loving him with all our strength through hard times. Financial hardship is a very difficult thing to “rest” through, because by its very nature, it requires more work from you. Instead of so much resting, which you need weekly, and should enforce for your long term health, try working “long” not hard. Meaning try to always be doing work in a calm way that somehow benefits your situation. One tiny step of faithfulness at a time leads to a clearly marked path that will make your next endeavor that much easier. As Elizabeth Elliot said, “what is the next right thing?” Then do it. Soon you will find restful peace.

  25. Kimberly says

    This is perfect. I’m on a business /leisure trip and in the hotel thinking okay I’m being totally useless and not accomplishing anything. I work very hard and I think my Supervisor orchestrated this 3 day trip to force me to rest and visit with my son who attends college here in town as an added bonus. I need to learn how to shut my mind off for restful periods… but it is super difficult.

  26. Michelle says

    I wonder how you should tell between sufficient rest and too much (the indicator of sloth you mention). I guess sometimes you may be inactive, but not “resting”, because of life stresses, which would make you feel like you need more “rest” when you are already getting a lot of it. I always feel exhausted, but for many people, my amount of “rest” would probably be enough. I think I’m also burned out at work, so that doesn’t help.

  27. Steph says

    A great article. I, like many others above, are working on resting but find it a battle sometimes. One thing I have found helpful is to actually mark out time in my diary before the week begins – I write ‘my time’ and I strive to put nothing else on in that space. I try to treat that time in my diary as if it is a medical appointment that I need to attend and cannot double book with anything else. It’s not always easy, but the weeks that I hold on to ‘my time’, I am so much better for it.

  28. Dianne says

    Joshua, our kids need rest as well. I have five kids and we have made a very conscious effort for the past 19 years to set aside a day of rest. We don’t shop or play organized sports on that day, but we do share a meal and when they were younger, we literally rested on Sunday. There are far too many kids stressed out with no example of how to rest because they have never seen it practiced. It takes planning and effort, but it is doable and doesn’t cost anything.

  29. says

    This is such an important subject. Not resting or taking holidays seems to have become some kind of badge of honour. Yet it is destructive in so many ways and on so many different levels with a terrible impact on indvidiuals, families and communities. I feel we need to get back to building life on true values in order to help start prioritising what is really most important.

  30. Tiffany says

    Thank you for posting this! I have a really hard time with this. During the winter I substitute teach. I also have four kids, and even though I try to limit their activities so it doesn’t drive us nuts, we still find ourselves rushing dinner and running off to something multiple nights a week. Add to that family/friend obligations on weekends, and by the time June rolls around I’m exhausted!

    By the end of the school year I felt completely burnt out, and as a result, I booked less camping for spring/July than I normally do, I didn’t race off to the beach a few days a week like I imagined I would, and I haven’t been biking every morning to maximize summer holidays. I think what I really needed was just decompression. So we kind of vegged through July. The kids played in the blow up pool in the back yard, we went to the park a few times, they crafted and read, and played with enormous piles of lego (we limit TV), and the whole time I’ve been feeling so guilty that I can’t just get motivated to “enjoy” summer, that I have actually kind of ruined the first half of summer for myself. I’ve been feeling like I’ve just wasted my kids time. And it’s not even like they’re complaining! Why are we so programmed to think that if we’re not burning through our “summer bucket list,” we’re simply squandering our time?

    I’ve been trying to look at it differently, that the downtime is what we needed. We have a lengthy family camping trip planned that starts next week, and I know we’ll be busy with that, so what if we just moseyed around in July, right?

    Just wish it was easier to “rest” without feeling crummy about it!

  31. Sheila Portal says

    It is in the Bible. to take a rest from all of our labors. So, when GOd made man in His image, it was part of His great plan that man should have a rest. GOd knows what is best for His creatures. He loves us. When we don’t heed GOd’s words, we get sick. Most of all, GOd said: “Come to Me all you who are heavily ladden and I will give you rest. FOr My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

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