As Duke students I think we’ve all become addicted to the rush of “getting something done.” We might not realize it, but there’s a little mental competition going on in all of our heads. It’s that satisfaction you get when you tell someone that you were just at the library or just came back from the gym. Or, better yet, that you just churned out a five-page paper in three hours. Yeah, it’s a good feeling getting things done. You feel productive. You feel efficient. You feel good.
You know what I love about Paris, though? A lot of people just don’t care. Every morning when I’m walking to the metro or going to class, I’ll pass a café or two where a decent number of people are just chillin’. They’re drinking a coffee, talking with a friend, just chillin’. People in the U.S. drink coffee too, of course. But at Duke a lot of that coffee drinking takes place in Perkins at midnight before a midterm. It’s just not the same ambience.
It’s the body language of these coffee drinkers that makes them special. You look at them and can just tell that they’re really in no rush to be anywhere. They are thoroughly enjoying that cup of coffee, taking in that moment.
Paris is full of places just asking for you to go and take in the moment. The other night I went to the Eiffel Tower with some friends to hang out, picnic and take the token abroad pictures in front of the Eiffel Tower. The place was crowded with people, and everyone was doing the same thing—there were people lying on the grass, drinking some wine, talking and maybe even making out. On the hour, the tower would begin to sparkle, and you would feel as though your life could have been a movie. It was a night full of perfect moments.
Out of the blue, though, I found myself feeling guilty for being so stress free, guilty for partaking in so much uninterrupted fun. I actually had some friends from Duke staying with me for the weekend so I admit I had taken procrastination and leisure to the next level. But why did I care? I was so happy and so relaxed, so why feel guilty about it? What is life all about at the end of the day—being productive or being happy? Clearly this is a more complicated debate, one that you all can enjoy exploring in philosophy class back on campus. When that debate does happen, though, know that I’ve cast my vote for being happy. I’ll take a stress-free life of casual coffee sipping and Eiffel Tower lounging in place of the presidency and a life where anxiety is the norm.
I hope all is well in Durham and that you guys have had the chance to partake in some afternoons of carefree lounging on the plaza. We’re lucky enough that as a school with such rigorous academics, we still know how to kick back and have some fun. Some of my fondest memories over the past two years include afternoons sitting in a chair on the plaza for a few hours with a friend, just talking and watching passers-by. As tempting as it might be to overload this semester and fill up those schedules, we can’t forget to give ourselves some time to enjoy just taking in the moment. As grumpy as some Parisians might be, I would definitely say that a lot of them have mastered this ability.
The best part about relaxing is that it can really be done anywhere. Obviously kicking back at the Eiffel Tower has a different magnitude than you might find in other places, but you can find people kicking back anywhere at any time of the day. It’s really all about the mindset.
There’s no reason to worry about what you’ve got to do later today or that paper that’s due in a few days. Immerse yourself in the moment at hand—that cup of coffee, that chair you’re sitting in and everything going on around you. At the end of the day you don’t need the Eiffel Tower to not have a worry in the world; a seat on the plaza, in the gardens or, heck, even in your dorm room can do the job just fine.
Philip Doerr is a Trinity junior and is currently studying abroad in Paris, France. His column runs every other Thursday.