Time. It may be our most valuable resource for without it, nothing else matters. It also may be the resource we most take for granted, squandering it foolishly by watching re-runs of American Idol or whiling away the hours in a job that brings no meaning or satisfaction. Our relationship with time permeates every aspect of life and culture: how we live, how we work and how we relate to each other.
In “A Geography of Time” Robert Levine explores the dimension of time in a way that will make you think twice every time you look at a clock. He reveals the history of our relationship with time and how it has evolved through the centuries. Although it is hard to imagine a life without clocks, the culture of living by timepieces is relatively new. For most of history, man relied on natural cues to plan or schedule events (if they even deigned it necessary to plan or schedule at all.)
Ironically, as technology has helped us to get better and better at measuring and understanding time, rather than becoming its master, we have become its slave. Although we have grown in financial wealth, technological advancement, and scientific knowledge, we are more time impoverished than ever before. Levine points out that the wealthier a nation becomes, the less time they seem to have. What is the point of accumulating wealth if it does not give us more control over our time? Why does technology seem to eat up our time rather than giving us more back?
These are important questions since our relationship with time seems to be an essential ingredient in the study of human flourishing. It is more complex than simply focusing on the present moment (see my article on “The Power of Before and After” from Organic Spa Magazine). Psychologists have shown that people with a greater awareness and consideration of the future are more likely to make lifestyle choices that lead to greater health, success and well-being (Zimbardo & Boyd, 2008). Recent studies have also shown that people who mentally transport themselves to another time, either imagining a positive future (Quoidbach, Wood, & Hansenne, 2009) or replaying events from the past (Vitterso, Overwien, & Martinsen, 2009) can improve their feelings of pleasure and well-being.
One of my favorite research studies, highlighted in Ellen Langer’s new book, “Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility” (2009) had participants transport themselves back in time and “live as if” they were twenty years younger. After a couple weeks of immersing themselves in their past, the participants showed actual signs of rejuvenation. By manipulating their thoughts about time, they were able to change their health and well-being. I call it the “Cocoon effect”.
In my work in the spa industry, I have come to believe that these elements of time are an important part of the spa experience. What gives greater benefit: The therapeutic experience of a massage or other spa treatment? Or simply the act of slowing down and taking an hour or two to relax and participate in your own well-being? I have my theories . . . what are yours?
References and recommended reading:
Boniwell I., & Zimbardo, P. G. (2004). Balancing time perspective in pursuit of optimal functioning. In P. A. Linley & S. Joseph (Eds.) Positive Psychology in Practice. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons.
Langer, E. (2005). Mindfulness versus positive evaluation. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.) Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology. New York: Oxford.
Langer, E. (2009). Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility. New York: Ballantine Books.
Quoidbach, J., Wood, A., & Hansenne, M. (2009). Back to the future: The effect of daily practice of mental time travel into the future on happiness and anxiety. The journal of positive psychology, 4(5), 349-355.
Vitterso, J., Overwien, P. & Martinsen, E. (2009). Pleasure and interest are differentially affected by replaying versus analyzing a happy life moment. The journal of positive psychology, 4(1), 14-20.
Zimbardo, P. & Boyd (2008). The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life. New York: Free Press.