Oct 27, 2010

Are the Keys to Happiness and Success Found In Our Perception of Time?

Psychologist and Stanford professor Philip Zimbardo recently lectured on his study of how people perceive time and how this perception can determine your happiness and success in life. In our dimension time is inescapable, we are consumed by it and its very nature defines our perception of the world around us. But this perception can easily become biased.
Walter Mischel did an experiment with four year olds; the subjects were offered one marshmallow, but told that if they would wait for an undisclosed amount of time the adult would leave and return with two marshmallows. Two thirds of the four year olds subjected to the experiment gave in to their temptation and ate the marshmallow that was in front of them. Although this may be no surprise to anyone who has ever faced temptation or spent time with a four year old, it still gave conclusive insight into the future of those children. Fourteen years later the same four year olds that chose to wait for the second marshmallow had averaged 250 points higher on the SAT and had become over all better students. It may only seem like a cruel test of four year olds’ love for marshmallows, but the children who had shown an orientation towards the future had sustained that orientation until adulthood and led a relatively more successful life than the four year olds who showed impatience and a present minded orientation.
Life is temptation; this is no surprise to most people, so why do we yield to temptation even with this foresight? Of teenage girls in the United States that had pledged abstinence until marriage sixty percent of them gave in to sexual temptation and most did so without using birth control. The desires of the present will typically take precedent over the ambitions of the future. As Dr. Zimbardo said “Promised virtues fall prey to the passions of the moment.”
Individual people will develop what are called time perceptions; these perceptions are non-conscious divisions of the human experience into time frames. These time frames consist of past, present and future and they can then be separated into six sub-categories dividing each time frame into two possible views, this ultimately creates six ways to look at the world.
The Six Perceptions of Time
1. Past – Positively Focused
A view of the past in a positive light.
2. Past – Negatively Focused
This perspective sees the past in a predominately negative light.
3. Present – Hedonism
This view places the most importance on the present and forms a preference for instant gratitude and pleasure.
4. Present – Fatalism
This is a belief in, or perspective of fate, your destiny is pre-determined
5. Future – Goal Oriented
These are the four year olds who waited for the second marshmallow, importance is placed on the potential of success.
6. Future – Transcendental
Or the perspective of life after death, gives less meaning to life before death.
These profiles are inherent in everyone, influencing every decision we make. But which is the best time perspective? Dr. Zimbardo suggests that we must “develop the mental flexibility to move between these perceptions fluidly, depending on the demands of the situation” this must be done in order to function successfully, without being corrupted by a limited view of time. Past Positive can give you the stability to connect to your identity and your family, a goal oriented future can give you the confidence and drive to meet new challenges, while hedonism for the present can (in moderation) provide the curiosity to explore people, places and yourself. The problem most have is letting one of these dominate their world view; any perception in excess is harmful. For instance, focusing too much on the future can lead you to sacrifice time with family, friends, personal time, and even sleep. Those who focus only on the future live for things like work, achievement and control which is obviously a harmful and unbalanced way to live.
Dr. Zimbardo imagines control of these perceptions can help solve world problems, including lowering high school dropout rates which have climbed to one every nine seconds, combating all forms of addiction as something he considers a disease of present hedonism, to modifying the way we think of family conflicts as a mere divergence of time perspectives. The simple idea of understanding the way your own perception of time has been shaped and then making an effort to understand time as a whole could be the answer to being happy and successful.


1 comment:

  1. Great article Syukron. Happiness is definitely about the RIGHT perception of time and living in the moment. Never dwelling on the past or over anticipating the future. :-)