This post gets a little deep, but, even if you’re not a fan of deep, I promise it’s worth hanging in until the end!
My husband wrote a paper on the concept of time recently, and it’s been on my mind ever since. One of my recent posts was “10 Ways to Find More Happiness,” so I obviously have been struggling with feeling like time is more my enemy than a friend, but I realized that I was hating on something that I hadn’t taken the time to understand. I hadn’t even put in the effort to think about what time was!
So, what is time? There is a scientific concept that nothing can be created or destroyed, it just changes forms. Time tracks that change. If there is no change, time becomes irrelevant and, you could say, obsolete. However, because most things in life are constantly changing, time is generally relevant!
If you were to break time down from a day to a minute to a second to this very moment, I would say the definition of time for this present moment is “change” itself. So asking if time is on my side is really asking if change is on my side. However, that definition does not do much to clarify if time is on my side unless it helps me understand my perception of time, so I asked myself another question: How do I determine if time is on my side?
I think the general idea of “being on your side” means that something or someone supports you and helps to increase your happiness, so time appears to be on my side when changes help increase my happiness. This paired with the definition of time as “change” means that another way of asking “Is time on my side?” could be “Is change helping me be happy?”
I wrote this quote in my journal a while back: “Sin is falling short of your standard and that standard creates a line that separates you from others and who you want to be.” If we assume that sin is anything that separates me from the happiest version of myself, it would mean that time is not on my side when it separates me from that ideal picture of myself. The natural opposite of this statement is that “time is on my side when it is bringing me closer to who I want to be.”
However, if happiness is controlled by the changes we make, and we live in a change-driven society, then it would seem like a safe conclusion that all this change is creating a happier society. It is counterintuitive to think that a large portion of people is not happy, but that is exactly what has happened.
The United States is dropping in rank in the World Happiness Report and the number of people with addictions is increasing to the point where opioid addiction alone kills about 160 Americans a day. This would suggest that despite the huge drive for change, few people are finding joy in the changes they are making. My theory is that there are a few aspects of change that people often assume are related to their happiness: the level effort required for the change, how quickly the change can be made, and the result of the change. People often think these things will affect their ability to be happy, but these assumptions are false.
Whether a path is easy or challenging does not determine if it will make you happy. A taxi driver with a high school education can be just as happy as the doctor he drives. Those who complete their degrees when they are 22 years old are not necessarily happier than those who finish when they are 26 or even 46 years old. I have yet to see the study that says the amount of money you make will affect how much you enjoy the work.
The idea that the United States of America is a center for change yet is miserable in the process suggests to me that changing for the sake of change without a deeper motive can actually be counterproductive to finding happiness. It requires effort without providing you with any of the meaningful progression that happiness comes from. Studying for a degree for the sake of a diploma is a much different experience from studying because you love the content, are working towards a dream job, or even just want to give your family a better life than the one you had. Maybe, even though happiness is controlled by change, the change itself isn’t the cause of happiness.
You can’t control all the outcomes of change so happiness that relies on things that change can’t last. The happiness that lasts will be based on the joy of drawing close to what you value through change.
All this together would suggest that instead of: change = happiness, The equation should be: values + change = happiness.
The key to being happy is knowing what you value and making changes that reflect and deepen your relationship with those values. If you are like me, you have probably not thought deeply about what really matters to you, so here are some questions you can start with:
What aspects of your religion or spirituality are most important? How do you like connecting with those around you? What aspects of yourself do you want to strengthen?
It’s hard to be happier than the people you love the most, so who do you value and why do you value them?
What things are important enough to be put above the people you value?
What makes you feel at peace is what makes you happy, so when have you felt the most peace?
It was somewhat mindblowing for me when I realized that you cannot value your accomplishments without knowing what you value. Lately, I’ve realized that much of my effort has gone into things that have little value for me: a paycheck, a clean home, and time to do nothing. The things that matter most to me have become less of a priority to the point where I lost sight of what I care about. I forgot how to have fun; I isolated myself and was not serving those around me; my spirituality was often ignored on the backburner; I would spend more time worrying about myself than my family. Everything I am doing right now is important, but I think I could find more happiness by looking at my efforts from the perspective of my values.
I recently made some major decisions that allowed me to follow my values, but many of my family members and friends disapprove of. Improving the lives of others has always been very important to me, and, from the time I was 12 to 21 years old, I thought I wanted to do that in the role of a doctor. However, I learned that the lifestyle of a doctor was not in line with how I pictured my family life, starting a family fairly young and randomly playing hooky with my kids, so I decided to lean away from that path. I took longer to graduate, taking any class that piqued my interest and learning to find happiness in the content. Even though I didn’t know what I was working towards, I knew I loved learning and I looked forward to nearly every lecture of 190 of the 200 credits I took (Organic Chemistry and Physics didn’t make the cut).
I recently graduated and still do not know how exactly I want to help improve the lives of those around me, so I decided to follow that value by simply sharing my journey on this blog. Even though my current jobs are not the highest paying and will most likely not turn into life-long careers, I never regret my decision to leave the medical field. I know how important family is to me and no career is worth not following my heart, even though I still don’t know where I am following it to.
Time can be a fantastic tool to become happier, but it involves making more decisions that reflect what is important instead of making changes based on what I think I should be doing. The details of where I want to go is not nearly as important as knowing the values I want to follow, and I am not as familiar with those values as I once was.
Sometimes, it is easy to forget what I value, especially when outside voices can seem so loud, but what you value and what makes you happy is intertwined. For example, when I am not being consistent with spiritual habits, I will wonder how much I value religion or how much God values me. Yet, when I think about the times I am being consistent, I remember how happy religion makes me and it only takes a few days of consistency for me to start tasting that happiness again. Another example, I looove learning. Graduating was hard for me because my brain felt bored and wasn’t being graded on anything so I felt stagnant. However, I discovered that listening to a wider variety of podcasts, both educational and entertaining, helps my brain feel like it is being used.
People can especially get too hung up on the details in relationships and lose sight of the shared values that really matter. In my opinion, J and I were a match made in heaven, but I doubt any dating algorithm would have matched us. I am an open, artsy, cautious, busy person who enjoys podcasts, dancing, museums, musicals, and cooking together. He is a private, sporty, confident, chill person who enjoys oldie music, bowling, action flicks, football games, and tossing a ball around together. However, we share the same values of family first, complete loyalty, clear and frequent communication, and actively putting God in our lives. I am able to love doing so many more things because seeing how much J loved different things pushed me to try them and ultimately gave me dozens of new activities to add to the list of things I enjoy doing. I value J and our relationship more than the activities we do, and I have found so much happiness in the new things I have tried because of him. We are a fantastic team, and the fact that we work so well is a true testament to the idea that why you do something is so much more important than what you are doing.
So, is time on my side? I think that asking if time is on my side is kind of like asking if a hammer is on my side: it all depends on who is holding it (stupid analogy, I know). Allowing it to work for the things and people I care about will build me a life that brings me much more happiness than if I hand it to the expectations of society, but I always have the choice.
Time is always on our side because it constantly gives us the opportunity to change, giving us the constant opportunity to use it to make our lives better. I may be working two difficult jobs, have no idea about what I want to do for a master’s program, and be vaguely playing around with a bunch of ideas in my head, but time gives me the opportunity to constantly do more and better. Time, at this moment, is just a single change. If I obsess over what I did with past opportunities or where I want to be in the future, it will pass without much really happening, but, if I look at my values and just use that moment to take care of one, I honestly believe I will find myself in an even happier place than the perfect future I imagine.
If you are not feeling as happy or successful as you would like, try taking a few minutes today to list all the things you really care about and that makes you happy, activities, values, people, etc. Then, over the next few days, try focusing on those things, acting in ways that help you feel closer to those values or remembering how the things you do connects to them. I promise, each day will feel a little more successful and you will get closer to the happiness you are looking for.