Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Time flies when you're having fun

It's fairly common to hear comments about how time seems to pass more and more quickly as years go by, but how often do we stop to think about why this might be the case? The answer might be simpler than we think, and it may be for reasons that will allow us to influence how much time we have to enjoy life.

When we're very young, our attention and activities are quite immediate. We're very much in the "now" with wanting to play with that toy we see, or wanting some item on the shelf we're passing by in a store, as we're led by the hand through a store. Time isn't something that we generally pay much attention to at this point, and so it passes without much notice.

We move on to elementary school, and a little more structure is introduced to our lives. This is the time we spend at home, this is the time we spend at school. We look forward to seeing our friends at school as well as at the end of the day, and then there are weekends, where there's so much more opportunity for playtime.

Homework is introduced, and all of a sudden we have much more specific goals for the next day, or a few days hence. Scheduled tests are introduced, rather than pop-quizzes, and in this fashion more and more milestone moments are established at various points in the future. Midterms and final exams make there way into the mix, and now we've got to plan for events several weeks or months out.

As our attention turns more and more to those milestones, the time in between can pass with less and less notice paid to it. We're working on something now, but it's for a result we'll see in a few weeks time when we turn in that project or write that test. By this point summer vacation is a firm concept that gives us a yearly marking of time. "Only 2 more months until summer break!"

If we move on to university, we now regularly have end of semester goals, as well as a goal spanning several years -- the attainment of that degree, and planning for all of the courses that will allow us to meet the requirements.

Work comes into the mix, and for many this is a means to an end, rather than a passion -- the time at work is simply something we do to achieve other goals...paying rent, putting food on the table, and so on. The shorter term goals are things like paying rent and such, and are simply obligations that we try to meet but don't pay close attention to. (Including, of course, "Must get ready for tax season in a couple of months!")

The goals we notice at this point are often even further apart -- saving up for a downpayment on a car or property several months or even years down the road. Planning for a vacation that you'll take next year, or even later. Paying off a mortgage in however many years you plan to take.

Since these are the goals which stick in our minds more than others, things which happen in between are often lost or missed. We may have a few enjoyable or trying times that happen spontaneously along the way -- we enjoy or cope with these as best we can when they occur, then they are memories.

It certainly seems that as our goals or milestone moments that are planned for or anticipated move further and further apart, our perception of time is that it passes more quickly -- since what has happened in between is often a blur.

A way of reclaiming some of this lost time seems to be by getting closer to that old cliché of "living in the now". It's sensible and practical to make goals for the future, don't get me wrong. We all have responsibilities, and we need to embrace and handle those, not shirk them. I'm simply suggesting that we need to pay more attention to what we're actually doing in our day to day activities.

Do you enjoy work? If not, what can you do about it? If you enjoy what you're doing, it's time you'll enjoy spending, and can live it, rather than live through it while waiting to do other things. What are you doing today? Tonight? This weekend? Do you know, or is it simply time that will pass while you wait for the next milestone? Are you looking forward to going home to see family or participate in some activity tonight, or haven't you really taken the time to think about it?

It may be a cliché, but we are, to a large degree, in control of our actions and our thoughts. If we seize each day and enjoy what we can in life on a daily basis, we'll live fuller, healthier lives in however much time each of us have here to enjoy. Plan to do something today or this weekend, and enjoy it. Lather, rinse, repeat. Don't neglect what you need to do to plan for your future, but don't sacrifice all of your "Todays" in the meantime!

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