In the art of a meaningful life, time is a gift to be enjoyed. When we live with a rich sense of meaning, we enjoy the gift of time in the past, present and future. It's a relatively recent phenomenon in human history to make time a problem. We diminish life's meaning when we turn time into a problem to be solved rather than a gift to be cherished. When we live with a rich sense of meaning, we enjoy the gift of time.
When we have a relationship with time as problem, time becomes a dilemma of choices rather than a delight of chances. This shows up in how we talk about our calendars and commitments. It manifests in how we argue that things move too fast and not fast enough.
The past hundred years have gifted and afflicted us with an unprecedented array of choices about how we spend our time. The more choices we have about time, the more stressed we can become about it.
There is apparently little positive correlation between life choices and enjoying life. Few countries offer more choices than in the famously celebrated US consumer economy. Yet, according to Gallup's recent worldwide research, Americans’ satisfaction with how free they feel to choose what to do with their lives has declined steadily for years, and now ranks 36th in the world, far behind the envied Scandinavian world leaders in this category.
The more stressed we get about our calendar choices, the busier we get. We wear busy as a badge of honor. We inflict on ourselves and each other unrealistic time demands and deadlines that fail to deliver on their promise of more time.
Seduced by the ideology of boundless progress, our chase for the illusion of life balance leaves us feeling inconsolably inadequate. We hurry our way to where we hurry somewhere else and never feel like we ever quite catch up. As Lewis Carroll reflected: "The hurrier I go, the behinder I get."
We glamorize youthfulness in futile defiance of nature's reminders that we never seem to have as much time as we think. Failing to make the top 100 countries on the Happy Planet Index, the US remains world leader in plastic surgeries.
With amazing inventiveness we manage to find new ways to make time a problem. We work overtime to make our time meaningful because the Madison Avenues of the world work overtime to seduce us with new versions of meaningless. Their deepest dread is that we finally find our lives meaningful.
Instead of a life rich in meaning, we feel ambivalent about the past, restless in the present and uncertain about the future. Our chase after fortune, fame and flattery do not add up to a sum of meaning.
This isn't a call for better harnessing control of our calendars or corralling our priorities with a herd of new apps. As reasonable as it seems to collect cool tools to keep the chaos organized, they do not change the nature of time.
Life doesn't become richer in how we conquer time, but how we conjure it. When we radically rethink our sense of time, we enjoy it as it is rather than trying to deny and resist its nature. Life has more meaning when we refuse to turn time into a problem and instead learn to empower it with more meaning.
A meaningful life isn't about changing the nature of time. It's about shifting our relationship to it. Our life has meaning when we cultivate a different sense of time. When we rethink our relationship to time, everything changes. We make the past, present and future meaningful.
Realizing the past is rich in narratives well told, storytelling makes the past meaningful. Knowing the only time we ever have is the present, spontaneity makes the present meaningful. Understanding that everything we do in the present makes other things more possible in the future, significance makes the future meaningful.
When we live from these principles of storytelling, spontaneity and significance, we flourish in the art of a meaningful life. We cherish the gift of time as never before.