Why you might need to imitate your children . . . or your grandparents.

Speed and greed are today’s obsessions. To do more and do it faster isn’t something, it’s everything.

People run faster, yet find they’re still desperately short of time. Their state of material riches and time poverty doesn’t make them happy. Mostly, it makes them feel stressed and breathless: they’re always running flat-out to juggle life’s demands and never have time to spend on anything except work.

Here is what Bertrand Russell, Nobel Prize winner, mathematician, and philosopher wrote in 1930:

The emphasis upon competition in modern life is connected with a general decay of civilized standards such as must have occurred in Rome after the Augustan age. Men and women appear to have become incapable of enjoying the more intellectual pleasures. The art of general conversation, the knowledge of good literature — who in our age cares for anything so leisurely?

Some American students took me walking in the spring through a wood on the borders of their campus; it was filled with exquisite wild flowers, but not one of my guides knew the name of even one of them. What use would such knowledge be? It could not add to anybody’s income.

The cure for this lies in admitting the part of sane and quiet enjoyment in a balanced ideal of life.

It seems little has changed in 78 years.

The root of the problem may be rather simple

Recently, there have been various media reports about a survey that showed happiness was mostly related to age: the young and the old are happier, in general, than those in the middle years of life.

Why might this be?

One reason that occurs to me is that neither the young nor the old are involved in the world of work. The young have targets at school, of course, but there are people whose job it is to help them reach them. They have their own stresses, but the survey seems to show most are happy. Their dreams are still before them, unsullied by reality. They still believe in the future.

The old have said goodbye to work and come to terms (hopefully) with accepting what they attained and what they didn’t. Whatever the problems of age and failing health, they aren’t striving to get anywhere any more. Now they have nothing to do but enjoy whatever they have.

Only those in between — the people trying to earn a living and get ahead — find themselves locked in competition and struggle. They’re the ones under all the pressure from a society obsessed with getting as much as possible in the shortest possible time. They’re the ones locked in constant competition, fueled by greedy corporations. They’re the ones whose dreams are hitting reality head-on. They’re the ones who often view the future with fear, not anticipation.

“Faster” isn’t the answer

Our ancestors had exactly the same amount of time as we do. Days, hours and minutes haven’t become shorter. There are still 12 months in a year. What’s changed are our expectations about what we should accomplish in the time available to us; what we should have to show for the middle part of our lives, when we build families and careers — and try to turn youthful dreams into mature achievements. As we cram more and more into our lives, obsessed with getting ahead, doing everything faster seems the only way to square the circle.

Time management isn’t the answer. That’s about increasing your productivity, so you can do even more. You need ways to do less in the time you have; to cut out low priority activities, so you have enough time to enjoy the rest to the full; to slow down enough to think about your life and focus on what truly matters.

There is a clear, simple alternative

Slow down, expect less, accept fewer demands, do them properly, and give yourself time to enjoy life.

Your aim should be to wake up every morning knowing you’re living the life you want to live; and living it in a purposeful and satisfying way. Take the time you have and use it well. Instead of being like a hamster in a wheel, running and running and going nowhere, try settling for what matters most to you and ignoring the rest.

My guess is you’ll find you achieve far more that matters. You’ll certainly get more enjoyment from whatever you have.

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