Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Beat your 'soft addiction'

They say that youth is wasted on the young - and "they" are right - but it may be more accurate to say that life is wasted on just about everybody.

That's the news from Judith Wright, author of "There Must Be More Than This: Finding more life, love, and meaning by overcoming your soft addictions," who says that we most often "check out" of reality, ourselves, and those around us by using "soft addictions" like zoning out in front of TV or heading to Starbucks five times a day.

Why do we do it? Wright says it's to distract ourselves from feelings or thoughts we don't want to deal with. Or we have certain hungers that we can't, or won't, satisfy, so we create new hungers - like watching four sitcoms on "Must See TV."

"Yes, I know people need to relax," Wright says in a Newshouse News Service article, "but don't tell me that four hours in front of the TV or computer is making you feel really good."

Who can't say they've never succumbed to one of these soft addictions? I can think of a few I've held: eBay, CDs, Spider-Man comics, CNN, MySpace.

My worst, and one from which I still suffer, is my e-mail. The mouse is seemingly forever hovering over the "Refresh" button, while I wait with baited breath for new messages to pop into my inbox. Why do I do it? Apparently, according to Wright, perhaps I suffer from lack of communication with those around me. I have to rely on others, outside my immediate zone of reference, for communicating and intimacy.

Distractions, it seems, are the prescription for anxiety.

But really they are just a waste of time. So-called "soft addictions" can also be a waste of money, when you add up all the CDs and lattes you've purchased to make you not-so-happy. Think of all you could have been doing instead of browsing through photos on MySpace, or shopping for that Beanie Baby (old reference, I know) you just had to have.

My grandmother likes to say that there isn't enough time to "enjoy all the beautiful things in this world." And she's right. Much has been written about humankind's quest for immortality, and it's not to use up all that time collecting things and watching episodes.

Some, of course, need help. The line between a soft addiction and an issue needing treatment is one I can't diagnose. But most of us fall into the former category. And there's something we can do about it. Namely: go outside and play. Read a book. Take a walk in the woods. Go somewhere where life, as its happening, wasn't made to entertain you.

And think.

It's tough, I know. I often use music to escape actually thinking about what's going on in my life. But then I take a walk, with no headphones, and analyze...whatever.

Find yourself in front of the TV? At the Starbucks counter about to plop down $2 for a cup of coffee? Shopping on eBay?

Step back, take a breath, and go talk to an actual, live human being.

It may help you beat your soft addictions, especially when you think about how all that...stuff...isn't really helping you at all.