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How Changing Times Have Changed Our Time

Updated: Aug 28, 2023


“Whether it's the best of times or the worst of times,

it's the only time we've got."

-- Art Buchwald

Has anyone ever asked you, "How are you doing?" and you answer them by telling them about all the ways you've been busy? "Oh, it was a crazy busy week, but I'm good!" I caught myself using this very response this week! They didn't ask me what I was doing, but how I was doing, but somehow those two things have become synonymous in our thinking, maybe because the assumption is that people are just being polite, not really interested in us.

But there are so many ways that we could answer a question like "How are you doing?" We could respond with our emotional state at that moment or over the period since we last saw the individual, "I've been feeling..." Or, we could respond with information about something impactful that happened, "I'm good because I'm learning about..." These are just a couple of examples of ways we could honestly respond to that question without making our well-being about our busyness.

"If we want to understand how we, as a society, have arrived at the point where being overwhelmed is the norm, busyness is a status symbol, and we feel naked without our phones, we must take a look at where we started and how expectations morphed over time to accommodate progress."

The Progress of Expectations

Through the march of time, as technology has progressed, our expectations have increased, meaning what used to be considered a "luxury" is now considered a "necessity." In the early 1800s, our primary needs included food, clothing, shelter, and work tools, most of which were produced by your family or purchased locally. After the Industrial Revolution, luxuries such as indoor plumbing, electricity, and faster means of transportation transitioned to necessities. From the late twentieth century to today, our necessities became things like personal computers, televisions, high-speed internet, smart technology (i.e., phones, tablets, watches, etc.), electric cars, and convenience.

The Progress of Money

With these luxuries-turned-necessities, it has become more and more expensive to meet our rising expectations, which are not only created by our wants and desires but also influenced by our awareness of what others have and say we should want too through television, social media, and advertising.

In addition, people began shifting their attitude toward personal debt. It wasn't until the 1950s that the idea of "buy now, pay later" became an option to meet our rising expectations and expenses. The first revolving credit card, introduced in 1958 by Bank of America, altered our expectations of what was possible. We no longer needed to save up for that purchase or trip; we could put it on a credit card and worry about paying it back later. "The idea of borrowing is now woven into the fabric of our economy. The new normal is to borrow decades into your future."

"Time is really the only capital that any human being has and the only thing he can't afford to lose. " -- Thomas A. Edison

The Progress of Time

Another impact of the Industrial Revolution was that time was no longer regulated by nature. Before, we may have worked from sun up to sun down, but with the invention of electricity, work hours were no longer limited to daylight, and with the rise of machinery, we no longer relied solely on work animals to set the pace. "As new technology makes life more convenient and efficient, the acquisition of such technology costs money -- and for most people, that means it costs more time."

The progress of technology also led to an increase in people trading their time for a paycheck. But this meant that individuals were no longer in charge of their schedules; instead, how their work hours were determined by their employers and the business demands. As we utilize "time as a commodity, it feels scarcer, and how it is spent becomes more consequential."

The Progress of Happiness

While our advancements have made life easier, more comfortable, and more convenient, our expectations and drive for success (more money, more possessions, more opportunities) have made finding meaning and happiness in our daily lives more difficult. Research indicates that our overall happiness is decreasing while our rates of depression have more than doubled.

"Happiness is largely a product of expectations. As times have changed, what has changed about our time is that we have much higher expectations about how much we should be able to do with the finite time we have." Additionally, the things we think will make us happy (i.e., that new car or phone) are short-lived experiences that ultimately add more stress to our lives.

To find our way back to what truly makes us happy and helps us find meaning in our everyday lives, we need to:

  • Evaluate every opportunity and intentionally choose what is truly worthy of our time and energy,

  • Have a clear long-term vision for our lives, along with an understanding of the help we need and the changes that we will need to make to take back our time,

  • Consider the things that we think of as necessities and determine if they are truly worth the monetary and time costs associated with them, and

  • Determine the best ways to alleviate your stress around debt and other financial and time commitments subtracting from what's important to you.

"The feeling of being overwhelmed and overloaded did not happen overnight. By peeling back the layers of change, we can begin to understand what's happened, and we can start to put our finger on the paradox of free time in which climbing the ladder of success no longer means having a life with more leisure or even more happiness, but instead, a life in which we feel continually compelled to do more."

This week, consider the following questions:

  • What can you do to remind yourself of the need to pause and disconnect from the accelerated pace of modern life?

  • In what ways has your own life story been impacted by the changes that have become the new normal over the last half century (debt, dual-income or single-person/single-parent household, more opportunity, etc.)?

  • What impact do these norms have on your time?

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