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I don’t remember when I started to feel guilty for picking up the Xbox controller. For the longest time, this mindless form of entertainment served as a break from a busy day or as a means to simply unwind in times of stress. Now, however, something has punctured that digital bubble of escapism: relaxation, a once acceptable pastime, has been equated to misdoing. This trend is particularly pervasive on this campus.

The University, as a community that prides itself upon the principle of unconditional achievement, fosters an environment in which overbearing academic assignments, unyielding schedules, and minimal sleep are all testaments to the degree of success one embodies. From the diligence of our work and the drive of our passions, we have justified conditions of near burnout. Unsurprisingly, on campus, the complaints of a tough workload come up in conversation nearly as much as the promise of a getting a meal “sometime.”

For many Princetonians, this has birthed a “work hard, play hard” attitude: a night out on the weekend serving as a reward for the completion of unrelenting obligations. While still serving as a release from the labors of the academic week, the “work hard, play hard” culture fails to satisfy the lost practice of simple relaxation. In fact, the strict cyclical nature of such a work-benefit mindset further alienates the idea of simply devoting time to peace, thus placing further importance on the completion of one’s work.

Relaxation serves a purpose greater than simply making headway on the neglected novel that has been bookmarked on the same page for weeks, or achieving progress on the latest video game. In the presence of uncountable responsibilities, it is easy to forget the health benefits of practicing relaxation techniques, such as stress reduction. Some research has even shown that the shifts in hormone levels attributed to regular relaxation has beneficial effects on the immune system.

Given its clear health benefits, why do we stigmatize relaxation? At what point did my nighttime routine transition from leisurely playing video games before an early bedtime to 2 a.m. cram sessions with my equally overworked roommates? 

Further, we complete today’s tasks simply in the name of ensuring an improved tomorrow. We are, therefore, mischaracterizing our present troubles as a step towards a greater good; once we have succumbed to this idea, it becomes easy to validate our engulfed schedules and belief in the notion that five hours of sleep isn’t so bad, and simultaneously easy to condemn activities that serve no purpose other than relaxation as wasting away our future. The guilt of relaxation reveals how each of us cares about the person we will be in ten years dangerously more than our present selves. 

Consequently, I believe it is time we allow the idea of beneficial unproductivity back into our lives. As a community, students must recognize the absurdity of glorifying stress and suffocating from work. As individuals, we must realize that our years in life are weighted equally, and must thus allocate time and care to the well-being of our present selves. While the time we spend relaxing certainly won’t come up in the next internship application, or be calculated towards the ideal GPA, it serves to make all the trials and tribulations along the path to future goals slightly more bearable.

Ethan Thai is a first-year from Phoenix, Ariz. He can be reached at ehthai@princeton.edu.

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