A Unified Theory of Happiness

An East meets West approach.

When Days Fly and Life's Short

Zen and the art of slowing down time

Please don’t hate me, but I do not feel as if my children have grown up fast and that life’s passing in a hurry, a blink of an eye. To me, time does not fly like an arrow, but like a fruit fly or a banana (thank Groucho Marx for the metaphor). There is poetic justice though. I also do not feel young inside or as if I’d been young only yesterday. I feel about 49 years old which I will be in only two days, I hope. Life’s long to me. And it’s got something to do with my relationship to time.

I know all about the philosophical discourses on time and how time is only a concept in our head. Though valuable, these discourses can also invite further denial about death and the impermanence of all things. At first, it might sound counterintuitive or even morbid, but when we accept that there is no escaping death, we may just open up to life. Accepting the inevitability of death has the power to jolt us into this present moment. We won’t waste our time as much or postpone what’s good and important. I recently read that people tend to wait all week for Friday, all year for summer and all life for happiness. This is not a good strategy to make our minutes count and experience this moment deeply.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

As painful as death is, especially when we lose someone we love, we couldn’t possibly want to live forever. How would life look without death? I don’t want to picture Earth without death. There are no horror movies about this scenario as it is plenty horrific to think of just a few vampires or poor Dorian Gray in this condition. I wish life was more perfect when it comes to the timing of death, but I do not wish for life without death.

Aging and decay must also be accepted if we want to have a good relationship with time. I know; I know. It is painful to let go our smooth skin and the attention that comes with a youthful appearance. It is also painful to get aches and pains and having to let go of physical strength. But so it must be. Imagine we’d drop dead suddenly when we still looked young (I think Hollywood did scare us with that particular scenario). How shocking this would be for everybody involved. I prefer a process. Also, with acceptance comes the discovery that each phase of life comes with its own promise, offering, and beauty, just like the crescent moon when just a golden slither.

Life’s uncertain, finite, and time’s precious. Once we are moving into acceptance, we can begin to treat our time with more kindness. If time were a friend, an imperfect but wonderful, wonderful friend, would you overwhelm, squeeze, and constrain him? And yet, this is what we do with our time. Instead of taking the time to listen and look at the moment, we pile up on it. When our relationship to time is good, we are mindful of the moment.

In fact, mindfulness is so powerful a way to slow down the experience of time that it works after only minutes, as a recent study by Robin Kramer and others has shown.* The researchers asked subjects to evaluate time looking at shapes on the computer and then split the group off into two. The first group then listened to a ten minute mindfulness exercise; the other to an audiotape about The Hobbit. Afterwards, each group reevaluated time elapsing looking at the shapes again. The mindfulness group’s subjective experience of time had significantly slowed down.

If only ten minutes of mindfulness can change your experience of time in an experiment, imagine what regular meditation practice and daily mindfulness can do for your relationship with the time of your precious life. Anybody can learn this as many books and courses suggest, including mine (www.AUnifiedTheoryofHappiness.com). As you accept life as a package that entails death, you are more inclined to stop or at least reduce multitasking and rushing as well as the obsession with time-sapping technological devices and television. Light a candle, drink tea more often and hardly ever turn down the opportunity to connect with a friend. You do have the time, yes, plenty of time when you have set your priorities straight. And as you begin to relate to time with care and kindness, you will have a greater sense of your participation in life. It is this sharpened sense that I most equate with happiness.

* http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053810013000792

You might also like this BLOG on happiness: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/unified-theory-happiness/201312/the-ultimate-happiness-plan

Andrea F. Polard, Psy.D., is the author of A Unified Theory of Happiness.

more...

Subscribe to A Unified Theory of Happiness

Current Issue

Just Say It

When and how should we open up to loved ones?