But for most people, it isn't possible. From cell phones to loud neighbors, noise is so pervasive, it's stressing us out and even making us sick. Learn how to turn down the volume and tune out the annoyances—and make your life healthier and more tranquil.
When I moved from a ground-floor Manhattan apartment to a house in a Florida suburb, I began to call my bedroom my cave. It's nestled in the back corner, butting up against grass, oaks, and firs, and I couldn't get over how silent it was—save for the occasional hooting of an owl or, after a heavy summer rain, a serenade by croaking frogs. I had grown accustomed to a much different nighttime chorus during my two years in the city: screeching brakes, slurred shouts from drunken revelers, and piercing sirens. My new bedroom was so quiet, it was keeping me up at night. So I started turning on the ceiling fan to fill up the silence. The steady hum put me right to sleep.
All this made me realize the extent to which our days are filled with the constant buzz of background noise, whether we live in the city, the suburbs, or the country—from the honking horns of traffic to the droning of the television, radio, and washing machine. Even if you turn off all the obvious noisemakers, the whir of your refrigerator or air conditioner kicks in. The opportunity to experience complete quiet is so fleeting that when you finally encounter it, it feels unnatural. "We are inundated with so much sound that we don't know how to be alone with ourselves anymore," says Arline L. Bronzaft, PhD, an environmental psychologist on the board of the Council on the Environment of New York City who has been studying noise for three decades. "The first thing too many people do when entering their homes is to turn on the television or radio just to have some background sound. They don't spend enough time getting in touch with their feelings, reflecting, imagining, and thinking—all rewarding activities that call for quiet."