The time we are given

The time we are given

A few days ago a good friend, Emily Collins, shared a message on Facebook which suggested that on average once you are into your 30s you have something like 1,800 weekends left to live (I did the math and thought it should be a bit more).  Some people posted that they felt that it was grim news but I felt that it was an uplifting a message about making the most of the time we have.  If you don’t believe me listen to Gandalf:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=vrlTeoFcf-Q

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that we are given”
JRR Tolkein

Research suggests that we find the concept of finite life so difficult to comprehend that we use every power that our ego possesses to suppress this truth and base many of our life decisions (both economic and psychological) on the false premise of continuity.

For me the 1,800 weekends left idea is a validation of my decision 9 years ago to leave the world of corporate finance to do a job I love.  I wanted my Monday to Friday and holidays to be at least as joyful as the weekends.

Meaning and joy
Thinking of life as a finite thing makes you approach each day as a special gift.  Of course we may already have just a few weekends left or maybe none.

If we look at our daily activities we can ask a simple question, “Does this activity bring me either joy or bring me a deeper meaning and understanding of who I am and what my place is in the world?”  Of course there inevitably follows a far more complex question.  “If the activity that I am doing brings me little or no joy now but I know that it enables me to have joy in the future, to what extent do I defer joy if life is uncertain and finite?”

The benefit of deferring joy is that it builds tenacity and willpower.   In studies, little kids who are able to sit in a room on their own and deny themselves the pleasure of eating a sweet now, compared to waiting for two in 10 minutes, are on average happier in later life, achieve more academically and are more successful in their careers.

The only problem with deferring joy is that it can become a habit.  Some people do it until they retire, counting the days away.  And in all those long years of denial they forget how to be playful and childlike.  They lose their creativity, their spark and their energy.

So perhaps we can look at what we do each day with more awareness and remind ourselves:
–         Life is precious and short
–         Am I clear that if I am deferring joy today it is because I am working towards something which has a deep meaning and I value (what I truly value – not what my peers, family or society values)

Experiencing joy
Obviously with 1,800 weekends or so people are tempted to pursue hedonism – to fulfil themselves through consumption (food, sex, cars, houses etc).  The problem with these joys is that they tend to be fleeting and habit forming.  Because they entice the senses so much they invite repetition and can squeeze out other forms of joy that the world has to offer.  Again the key is to raise awareness and ask:

“Am I repeating this joy out of habit?”
“What future joys can be experienced by choosing a more difficult path or trying something new?”
“Does this joy bring me closer to my loved ones, help me understand myself better and connect with new people?”

Connecting
And finally I’d like to explore the greatest joy – connecting to friends and understanding yourself.  Research in Positive Psychology suggests that the greatest building block of wellbeing is the closeness and depth of your relationships.  Friendships are not measured by the number of Facebook friends that you have, but through having a handful of friends that know your highest highs and lowest lows, who love you even when you act and look like a car crash, and fill you with warmth and love when you succeed in life.

When you meet such people cherish and love them dearly.  Thanks for the inspiration Emily.

Hope you found this useful

Lots of love Andy

Posted on October 25, 2012, in positive psychology and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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