The right outlook makes a big difference
If you think time is on your side, you're probably happier
While focusing on the good things in life is good advice for personal action, creating more leisure by sharing society's surplus is good advice for social action. We trim this 2008 book review from USA Today in July.
By Marilyn EliasOur attitudes toward time shape every part of our lives, and yet few recognize how this subtle fact can sabotage careers or vault them skyward, wreck marriages, and make people happy (or not).
The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life by Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd, research manager at Google, is not a time-management book.
After surveying more than 10,000 adults over the past 30 years, the authors have identified six ways in which people view time. Nobody has only one way of viewing time, but how high or low you rank in each category is linked to your odds of being happy, mentally healthy, or successful.
There's one timeless truth about time: It's a major problem for people.
"Not enough free time together" is the top source of stress in marriage, above finances and sex; it also ranked first in a nationally representative, scientific poll 21 years ago. Life is busier this year than last, about half said in both polls, and nearly all respondents said they craved more time with friends and family.
But would it be happy time?
"Mismatches" between people who view time differently are common in marriages, Zimbardo says. When future-oriented spouses clash with mates who live mostly for fun in the present, "you hear 'He's irresponsible' and 'She's a slave-driver,' " he says. Trouble can erupt over how to spend money, free time or vacations and how to raise kids.
Many ambitious middle-class families are future-focused because they want their children to have a good future.
A new wave of well-educated parents increasingly take their children off fast-track activity schedules to assure a good future.
These parents, most of whom are in their 30s and early 40s, want quality family time now. They're not as driven as their parents were career-wise, and there's more emphasis on family togetherness. They want their kids to have a good future, but there's less insanity about it.
Zimbardo is most concerned about how college students view time. Many are preoccupied with unhappy past events and prone to believe that fate controls what happens to them. They're high in depression and anger.
He says corruption and lies exposed in business and government are souring many young people during what should be a positive, can-do time of life.
Some of their notable elders, acting on warped time perspectives, have not set the best example, Zimbardo argues. He uses the Enron scandal as an example of "instant gratification" hedonism indulged in without regard for consequences.
People who experience the most well-being choose to focus on positive experiences in their past or opt for the most favorable interpretation of a difficult past; enjoy plenty of fun in the present without excessive indulgence as they keep a reasonably careful fix on the future.
Whatever your attitude toward time, though, it can be changed, Zimbardo emphasizes. Their book offers exercises to "reset your perspective clock."
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