sunday life: cos it’s cool to be calm

Posted on September 20th, 2009

This week I took wise counsel from a bunch of nice 22-year-old blokes in Ramones T-shirts.

On Friday night I found myself in a down-an-alley-way-up-a-rickety-staircase bar brimful with young men born since the advent of personal email. They wore winkle-pickers and their older sister’s cardigans and drank longnecks of Coopers. It felt like it was 1983; I knew the words to all the songs.

At the expense of sounding creepily like Germaine Greer (remember that weird book The Beautiful Boy in which she infatuates over barely-adult boys?), I’ve been in the company of very young men a lot lately and find them intriguingly charming. (A shout out to their mothers – you’ve done a stellar job.) I also find them curiously relaxed.

This, in spite of the fact they all seem to be juggling a crazy array of blog design start-ups, music piracy operations and 17 Twitter accounts. “Do you ever get stressed?” I asked Mike, a cherubic kid who runs two street art galleries and DJs at weekends. He adjusted his ironically dorky glasses and said, “No, because these days it’s cool to be calm”.

Cool to be calm?! Wow, I liked it. Mike explained that among his generation being stressed is a crook look. Really? “It spreads a bad vibe. And what does it achieve?”

On this non-rhetorical note I left the young folk to their chilled thing. As I walked onto the street I looked up at a billboard advertising a jeans label. No kidding, it featured half a dozen chilled-out kids with Stay Calm. Wear Denim emblazoned across the middle.

Was something happening here?  A twist in the Zeitgeist? I reckon so. Just to zip-lock the deal, today I read about the Next Big Thing in beverages geared at this generation: calm drinks. They’re the antitheses of Red Bull with names like Slow Cow and Mary Jane’s Relaxing Soda. Made with herbal relaxants, they’re designed to “slow your roll” and have you “calm down…. focus the mind”, and are hitting 7Eleven stores in the US as I type.

So why does “calm” hold such aesthetic sway with this lot? Honestly, I don’t have the column space to really say. Is it just a boy thing? Not sure. Am I appalled I’ve hit an age where I make generational observations about young folk? Yes.

The more interesting question, however, is whether the rest of us can learn from this Zen outlook.

Back in my day (oh Lord, I have hit that age), it was cool to be stressed. Being busy had cache and wallowing in it spawned the self-help industry. When I was 22, it was fly to strut around frenetically with a Filofax (didn’t we all ask for one for Christmas?), not meditate (interestingly, the two meditation groups I attend comprise mostly of these calm-aspiring young people).

For most of us today, when people ask, “how are you”, we automatically reply, “So busy” or “Flat out, work has been crazy”. And we brag about how many emails we receive and how long it’s been since we took a holiday. We wear stress as an achievement, which I’m just realising is dull and destructive.

I don’t think we were any more stressed in early adulthood than 22-year olds are today. Sure, we had to actually research our university assignments and when we graduated we couldn’t get a job, even at McDonalds. But it was merely different, not necessarily more stressful.

No, the difference is, these kids choose calm. In saying they’re calm, they become calm.

The words we choose are very powerful – what we say we are, we very easily become. I know for me, merely telling people how stressed I am makes me more stressed. I take on the stress of that work argument in the retelling of it.

But it’s deeper than this. Countless philosophers and Quantum physicists have shown “like attracts like”. Just as grains of sand clump together, so does negative energy, whether it be a bad mood (we’ve all seen how contagious they can be) or bad wording. Choose stress as your mantra and you’ll attract more of it.

This weekend I watched my words and chose to say what I want to be…which is definitely calm. I had to adopt a calm demeanor, to be convincing. And so I became calm. Calm is a state of mind that’s entirely cultivatable. The question is, do we all want to get cool to calm? I reckon so.

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