I recently gave a presentation on how we choose to spend our time, our life – planning for the future versus living more in the moment. The old ant and grasshopper parable came to mind. Are you more like the hard-working ant who struggled all summer storing food for the winter, or more like the carefree grasshopper who hopped and chirped the summer away?
We often hear about how we aren’t saving enough, whether that’s for emergencies or for retirement. Not to mention how nearly impossible it is to do that with most incomes not keeping up with costs, among other financial challenges. While I certainly don’t want to minimize any of that, I’m choosing here to focus more on the psychological side of things.
What are we saving for in terms of wants and desires? What are we expecting of the the future? And what are we giving up to get there? What if next week the ant and the grasshopper both have massive insect coronaries and die? Who will have had the better life? Would it be easier to save for the future if that future were guaranteed?
I’m thinking of my father who died suddenly 6 months after he retired. Would he have lived differently had he known his expiration date? Would he have bought that fancier camera equipment he wanted and spent more time on his favourite hobby? Would he have travelled to revisit the places he spoke of so fondly from his youth?
With no guarantees, how can we find a balance where we aren’t recklessly living only in the moment with no thought of the future, but also not working and worrying ourselves so hard that life passes us by? On the one hand it sounds so simple, just make time for both, understanding that balance is key to just about everything. But like losing weight as they say, if it were that easy, we’d all be our nicely balanced, desired size.
One thing I really don’t understand is why our society seems to take pride in overworking itself – as if exhaustion should be worn as a badge of honour. Some employers are realizing that happy and less-stressed employees actually can help their bottom line, but I still think there’s an overriding voice in our societal head that ranks work over play, planning over present presence.
The idea of work having more value than play is clearly an oversimplification, but for me it does beg the question as to what we hope to get out of this life, what do we hope it to be? And how do we want to feel about it when we reach the end of it? Up for a cliché? What do most people say on their deathbed? “Gee, I wish I’d spent more time working,” or “Why didn’t I spend more time with family and friends?”
To touch on the practical side of things, the need to work to pay for things in our society, the very real struggle sometimes just to survive both now and later, I admire those who find pleasure in the little things, a way to be in the moment while still taking care of business. Sharing a smile or chat with a stranger while waiting in a painfully long line rather than griping about the forced delay in the day. Approaching chores with a changed perspective so brushing one’s teeth or doing the dishes become bonus moments of solitude, time to think or even just enjoy sensory inputs like touch or smell. Maybe those seemingly small moments can make everything else seem better, reminding us there’s more to life than just surviving.
And who knows when one of those moments will unexpectedly become memorable, even if it’s only for it’s smallness. While we can’t buy time, we can change how we spend it.