Too Busy? Maybe You Need Some Awe

Cultivating Awe, part 1

Awe doesn't magically create more time. It just feels like it does.

Do you feel "time-starved"? It seems a feature of contemporary life: busy-ness, busy-ness, busy-ness. Even the term, the concept, “time-starved,” is a creation of the last couple decades. A generation ago, the notion of “time-starved” would have been novel.

People are, increasingly, reporting they are time-starved.
“A December Gallup poll found that 61 percent of working Americans said they did not have enough time to do the things they wanted to do. Some of us feel this more acutely than others: A 2015 Pew Research Center survey found that 9 in 10 working mothers said they felt rushed all or some of the time.” (Laura Vanderkam, NYTimes, 2016 May 13)
But the busy-ness of our lives has two components. One component is how many hours you are actually productively working or commuting – including necessary household chores. The other component is how busy you feel.

How attached are you to your story of how busy you are? Professionals tend to overestimate work hours. We
“remember our busiest weeks as typical. This is partly because negative experiences stand out in the mind more than positive ones, and partly because we all like to see ourselves as hard-working. One study . . . found that people estimating 75-plus hour workweeks were off, on average, by about 25 hours.”
Moreover, while reports of being time-starved have been increasing, the overall time that Americans spend watching TV or streaming video has not been going down. Adults aged 25-49 average about 30 hours a week watching TV or video. Those over 50 average even more. Which raises the question: are we really as busy as we feel?

Laura Vanderkam, an author with a busy speaking schedule and a mother of four children under the age of eight,
"logged on a spreadsheet in half-hour blocks every one of the 8,784 hours that make up a leap year. I didn’t discover a way to add an extra hour to every day, but I did learn that the stories I told myself about where my time went weren’t always true. The hour-by-hour rhythm of my life was not quite as hectic as I’d thought."
Certainly, there were some times that really were frenetically busy.
“If I wanted to construct a narrative of craziness, the sort professional women in particular tell one another as we compete in the Misery Olympics, I had moments that would qualify. I pumped breast milk in Amtrak bathrooms. I was up from 11:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. with the baby one night before getting on an early flight to Tampa, Fla., where I was giving a speech. I logged hours doing laundry — sheets, blankets, pillows — as a brutal stomach bug worked its way through the gastrointestinal tracts of all four children. To catch up, I worked late at night. I worked on weekends. I worked on vacations. These data points exist, but there was plenty of evidence of a calmer life. I got eight massages. I went for long weekend runs (constituting some of the 232.75 hours I spent exercising). I went out to dinner with friends. I spent evenings after the kids went to bed sitting out on the porch, reading fashion or gossip magazines. (My reading total: 327 hours flat. It could have been War and Peace. It wasn’t.)” (Laura Vanderkam, NYTimes, 2016 May 13)
Feeling time-starved extracts a toll on health and well-being. Is there a way to do just as much but feel less stressed, hectic, frenetic?

Yes. There is.

Experiences of awe increase your perception of how much time you have.

Awe experiences also increases your orientation toward compassion, which is a crucial indicator of your own well-being. Across three different experiments, researchers found that jaw-dropping moments made participants feel like they had more time available and made them more patient, less materialistic, and more willing to volunteer time to help others.
"The researchers found that the effects that awe has on decision-making and well-being can be explained by awe’s ability to actually change our subjective experience of time by slowing it down. Experiences of awe help to bring us into the present moment which, in turn, adjusts our perception of time, influences our decisions, and makes life feel more satisfying than it would otherwise.” (Melanie Rudd, psychologicalscience.org, 2012 Jul 19)
One of the measures they use is the box of pencils drop. An experimenter pretends to accidentally drop a box of pencils. Almost every subject will help pick up the pencils -- but are they merely going through the motions of helping because there’s social pressure not to just stand there? With the pencil-drop test, experimenters measure how many pencils the subject picks up.

In studies of how money effects people, researchers used the pencil drop test and found that if people had been answering questions about money, or were just sitting near a stack of Monopoly money, they pick up fewer pencils. Just the thought of money makes people self-centered and less compassionate. But when people have been exposed to something awe-inspiring, they pick up a lot more pencils than the control group.

Awe is good for you. Your awe is also good for the people around you.

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This is part 1 of 3 of "Cultivating Awe"
See also
Part 2: In Praise of Being Temporarily Off-Kilter
Part 3: In Praise of Not Knowing

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