We live in an age of unlimited things to do. Some activities are necessary, like earning money and housekeeping, whilst some are optional, like reading books, writing social updates or online gaming.
All these different things to do quickly suck us in, and the next thing we know, we wasted minutes, hours or years of our lives.
Time, it seems, is becoming our enemy. It whispers possibilities and happy future, but at the end of life most people feel cheated. The feeling of having missed out on life visits even those who achieved significant goals and were in demand relationship and career-wise.
Why do people feel cheated by time, and can time be spent in a way that once a little of it is left, we look back in joy rather than with regrets?
These questions can be answered by looking at how people lived in the past.
Fortunately, we don't need to research dry history papers to find the answers. There are still cultures living in harmony with ancient traditions.
Such is the South Indian culture, where I lived for three years and witnessed ways of life forgotten by the West long time ago.
In South Indian villages people relax into the present moment. They see work as a way to earn money for the necessities of living, like food or medicines. They hardly buy new clothes unless their old clothes are beyond repair, and they're happy with old furniture as long as it serves its purpose.
Once they have enough money to buy their daily bread, they stop working and start living. They spend their days leisurely talking to neighbors whilst sitting in the shade of coconut trees, joyfully playing with children, and making traditional food.
Living in such a community slowed me down; stress left my body and mind completely, and I realized what a precious gift time is, and how most people in the West misuse it.
The root of rushing
It seems that the disease of rush started in our society during the Industrial Revolution in 1760s. This was the time of abandoning work in farms and moving to big cities to work in factories and pursue the elusive concept of success. Young farmers got seduced into believing that possessing more things would equal more happiness.
I see this happening in India now. Villagers are happy with their lives until they get a TV and see all the things that they don't have and can't afford. They start feeling dissatisfied with what they have and move to big cities to trade all their time for money in the hope of having the lifestyle advertised on TV.
Stress soon starts, peaceful villagers turn into competitive employees, and although they get the lifestyle they see on TV, they don't feel happier than before. In fact, they feel unhappy.
We forgot (and people in developing countries are in the process of forgetting) that it's the experience of living that matters, and not the things we get for our time investment. Instead of enjoying the act of living, we use almost all our time to earn money for getting things which aren't necessities.
As we turned our backs on the experience of living, we got disconnected from the present moment where happiness lies.
We now try to cover up the feeling of emptiness and unhappiness that comes as a result of not being present by engaging in superficial entertainment, like social media and movies. Time passes quickly in such pursuits, and it becomes increasingly harder to relax and just be.
Slow down and simplify
To be happy and at peace with ourselves, we need to slow down and simplify our lives. Here are three easy ways to make your life more peaceful:
1. Get rid of furniture, clothes, books and other things that you don't use anymore.
2. Reduce the number of to-do things on your daily list - leave only the essentials.
3. Cut down on superficial entertainment such as social media and online games.
When we no longer see time as a means to earn money but as something too precious to miss, we will finally be able to relax into the present moment and experience the effortless joy that quickly changing old communities still feel.