It’s been about six weeks since my family and I have been back in the U.S. There are blessings and sweet creature comforts we’re enjoying, to be sure (cheddar cheese, anyone?), but there’s one thing we always notice anytime we’re stateside.

We North Americans sure like to be busy.

There’s something about busyness that makes us feel productive, like a useful member of society. It’s nearly frowned upon to kick up your heels and spend time relaxing, especially with piles of work all around you.

It’s one major thing I love about living in the culture where we’ve been the past three years (and it’s common in most non-Westernized cultures) — relationships are more important than events.

Without fail, my husband and I struggle with the American busy lifestyle anytime we re-enter the culture here. It’s probably the one thing I miss the least about my passport culture—the ingrained belief that busyness equals value.

There is real beauty to taking life slowly. Sure, I’m a productive nut — I love checklists, getting lots of things done, and ending my day feeling like my energy was spent on something worthwhile. I don’t admire laziness. And it’s a lot of physical and emotional work to run a family and household, so very rarely do I enjoy the luxury of an afternoon with my feet propped up.

But we Westerners could really take heed to the many cultures worldwide that don’t rush around frantically, spending most of a day’s hours making sure a ton is accomplished.

There is a sweetness missed when we spend more time running errands than we do chatting with our neighbors, enjoying an impromptu coffee date with a friend, or watching our kids play at a park with newly-made “best friends.”

Here are a few ways we can all slow down today.

Photo by Kenna Takahashi

1. Instead of three Most Important Things on our list today, make it just one. Or none, even.

2. Forget the dishes in the sink, and say yes to our kids’ insistent request to play with them.

3. Call up a friend, and see if she’s up for bringing herself and her kids over to hang out for the afternoon.

4. Drag a chair out onto your front porch, watch your kids play in the yard, and see if you can strike up a conversation with a neighbor. Who knows, you may make a new friend.

5. Do something easy for dinner tonight — sandwiches or salad will work just fine. If it’s nice outside, make dinner a picnic.

chatting on the phone
Photo by Daniel Lobo

6. Call an old friend, just to say hi.

7. Turn up the music and dance in your living room with your children. My kids love this, and it takes 15 minutes.

8. Get out the crafts and work on a project that’s been on your list forever.

9. Go on a leisurely walk. Have no agenda.

10. Have an afternoon movie special with your kids after their naps or quiet times. Popcorn is optional but definitely a fun bonus.

11. Treat your kids to an unscheduled drive to a favorite local spot, such as a park, a museum, or a friend’s house.

Photo by Guilio Bernardi

12. Read a novel.

13. Do what you’d normally do with your kids—read books, sculpt play-doh, help with homework—but do it outside on a blanket.

Don’t stress too much about getting a lot done everyday. It’s something I have to remind myself near daily, but I’ve truly seen the value of a slow lifestyle from the different non-Western cultures where I’ve lived.

We sure like to be productive. But that’s not the only important thing in life.

How are you going to enjoy today? What are some other ways you can take life a bit more slowly?