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Quiet has never come easily to Americans.

More than a century ago, Oscar Wilde labeled us "the noisiest country that ever existed."

Today, the volume is certainly higher -- and it probably didn't help when the Environmental Protection Agency closed its noise-control department in 1982.

Still, psychologists and other students of silence say people need periodic quiet. A few tips for finding it:

Start small. "If you're just beginning, take five minutes a day and go outside and find a nice, beautiful place and just think about things," says Albert Mehrabian, a professor emeritus of psychology at UCLA.

Turn off the car radio every now and then.

Ban television one day a week, and replace it with reading, thinking or maybe a game of Scrabble.

Go on a silent retreat. Catholics, Episcopalians and Buddhists are among the denominations that commonly offer them.

Try a quiet activity, such as gardening, that allows the mind to wander.

Take a walk, tune in to nature -- and leave the Walkman at home.

-- Roy Rivenburg

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