Is The Key To Happiness All About Time Perspective?

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Stanford professor of psychology Philip Zimbardo has a very interesting and insightful take on how we can look at human behavior, impulse control and motivation. He believes it all comes down to our "time perspective" and makes a compelling case for associating these biases towards the past, present and future as the main factors that control our behavior, addictions, desires and sense of satisfaction.

Information on Zimbardo's book "Time Paradox":


In the eighteenth century, a secretive sect of men created a gruesome memorial to the importance of time in the dim, dusty basement of Santa Maria della Concezione, a nondescript church at the top of the Spanish Steps in Rome. Like the great St. Peter's, which towers nearby, the cramped walls of Santa Maria della Concezione are covered with individual tessera from which transcendent mosaics emerge. Unlike those in St. Peter's, the decorative tessera adorning the narrow confines of Santa Maria della Concezione are made not of colored glass but of discolored human bone. Hundreds of stacked skulls form Roman arches. Thousands of individual vertebrae create intricate mandalas. Smaller bones, perhaps from hands and feet, form chandeliers replete with light bulbs. The complete skeleton of a small boy dangles from the ceiling holding the scales of justice in its bony hands. And fully dressed monks with withered skin still intact wait in reflective poses for eternity. The sheer spectacle is at once terrifying and enthralling.

Capuchin monks, better known for giving the name of their distinctive hats to coffee topped with foam, or cappuccino, reinterred four thousand of their deceased brethren in this basement because their earlier "final resting place" had become the site of new construction. Despite its solemn content, the almost surreal Crypt of the Capuchin Monks with its posed corpses has the feel of a Hollywood movie set or an exceptionally well-done Halloween display. For most visitors, the crypt is a sight to be seen, not a site for serious contemplation, and tourists shuffle through it each year paying less homage to the dead before them than they do to works of art in the nearby Vatican museum.

To someone who is not eager to rush off to the next wonder on his itinerary, a deeper message reveals itself. For instance, when one of your authors, John Boyd, had an unexpected free afternoon to visit the Crypt of the Capuchin Monks, he noticed an inscription written on the floor at the foot of a pile of bones:

What you are, they once were.
What they are, you will be.

As he read that flowing script of twelve simple words, the past and future burst upon the present. In an instant, the skeletons ceased to be historical curiosities and became fellow travelers on life's fateful journey our peers. Four hundred years of sunrises and sunsets, fifteen thousand days of feasts, famines, wars, and peace no longer separate us, becoming as inconsequential as the color of the monks' dried skin and ivoried bones, the medieval Latin they spoke, or the style of their robes. The inscription strips us of our well-honed psychological ability to ignore even to deny the inevitable: Our time on earth is limited. In the mere blink of the cosmic eye, we will join the billions of our ancestors who have lived, died, and become indistinguishable from the piles of bones in front of us.

The crypt is a solemn reminder to the living of our ultimate destiny. While Rome's other attractions display the life's work of some of the world's greatest artists, this crypt stores remnants of the lives themselves. If the bones could talk, they would tell stories of thousands of aspiring Leonardos, Michelangelos, and Raphaels lying there. Yet the crypt's silent message is not an admonition that we prepare for death but an impassioned plea that we live meaningfully and fully the lives we are living right now.

That is the subject of this book time and your life: how you can strengthen, deepen, and even reinvent your relationship to it by using the exciting new discoveries we have made in our thirty-plus years of research on time. We want to share with you a new science and psychology of time that we developed based on personal, scholarly, and experimental investigations. Your personal attitudes toward time and those that you share with people around you have a powerful effect on all of human nature, yet their importance is underappreciated by most people, academics and laypeople alike. This is the first paradox of time: Your attitudes toward time have a profound impact on your life and your world, yet you seldom recognize it.

In the course of our work, we have identified six major attitudes toward time, or time perspectives. We will first help you to identify your personal time perspectives and then we will offer exercises designed to expand your time orientation and to help you make the most of your precious time. If our project succeeds, you will learn how to transform negative experiences into positive ones and how to capitalize on the positives in the present and the future without succumbing to blind devotion to either. Therein lies a second key paradox of time: Moderate attitudes toward the past, the present, and the future are indicative of health, while extreme attitudes are indicative of biases that lead predictably to unhealthy patterns of living. Our goal is to help you reclaim yesterday, enjoy today, and master tomorrow. To do so, we'll give you new ways of seeing and working with your past, present, and future.

Over three decades, we have given our questionnaires to more than ten thousand people. Colleagues of ours in more than fifteen countries around the world have used it with several more thousands. It's been rewarding to see individuals take this inventory and realize that they parcel their flow of personal experiences into mental categories or time zones. After we present the broad strokes of our discoveries in Part One, we'll get into how to use these perspectives for better health, more profitable investments, a more successful career and business, and more enjoyment of your personal relationships.

We hope that our discoveries will allow you to find better, different ways of living, freeing you from burdensome, outdated, or tired thoughts and actions to which your old perspective tied you. It's like the classic joke:

A guy from the city is walking down a country road past a farm when he sees a farmer feeding pigs in a highly unusual manner. The farmer is standing under an apple tree, holding up an enormous pig so that the pig can eat as many apples as it wants. The farmer moves the pig from one apple to another until the pig is satisfied, then the farmer starts again with another pig. The city man watches the farmer feed his pigs in this way for some time. Finally, he can't resist asking the farmer, "Excuse me. I can't help notice how hard it is for you to lift and carry and feed these pigs one by one at the apple tree. Wouldn't it save time if you just shook the tree and let the pigs eat what falls on the ground?" The farmer looks at the city guy with a puzzled expression and asks, "But what's time to a pig?"

What pigs are you carrying around that you need to let go of?




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