In our fast paced society, we can forget to value the things that are truly meaningful in our lives. Distraction is everywhere and we are constantly bombarded with messages that tell us we do not have enough and that we need to spend more time working. This can result in us missing out on the more important aspects of life, such as time with our families. How we use our time is the most important decision we make on a daily basis because time is our most valuable resource. While it is detrimental to obsess over how you spend every moment, it is also equally damaging to never think about what you do with your time at all.
How Much Time do we Really Have?
Tim Urban used a chart to examine the realities of how much time we actually have in a 90-year human life. In his post he explored how much time he has left with his parents. At 34 years old, he optimistically expects to spend another 30 years with them. And at the current rate that he sees them (about 10 days a year), that means he’s already used 95% of the total time he’ll see them in his life.
Consider Tim’s perspective when examining your own life. When you assess how much time you spend with your loved ones, do you find yourself delaying a visit because you think there will always be another day? Do not fall into such a trap. Perhaps you currently spend more time with your parents than Tim does, but the point remains clear that time is a finite resource. We are often caught unaware of how true that really is.
Consequences of Inattention
Losing such a connection to our loved ones can lead to feelings of loneliness. Everyone experiences this at some point in their lives, and understands how overwhelming it can be. It can also have a tremendous effect on our health. In fact, there is a greater difference in mortality rate between lonely and non-lonely people than there is between those that have obesity issues with those that do not (a 50% difference in the former and an 18% difference in the latter).
Loneliness affects the elderly even more than it does the general population. In a study with people over 60 years old, loneliness correlated with early functional decline and death. These conditions also have a higher prevalence in the elderly who are lonely:
- Diabetes Heart
- High blood pressure
Benefits to You and Your Loved Ones
The benefits of spending time with your parents are numerous. Connections are so valuable, and it is our experiences with each other that allow us to build and foster relationships. Our connections to others are not frozen in time; they erode without proper maintenance. Allowing this to happen will lead to deep feelings of regret, and we should all try to avoid this emotion as much as possible. The worst regrets are those that we cannot change. This is always true of regrets concerning how we spend our time. Try not to allow this to happen to you. Spend time with your loved ones and create new lasting memories, while revisiting cherished old ones.
The benefits are even greater for your aging parents. Time and memories become strongly desired when you witness everything changing around you. Help them reflect by discussing your perspective on shared experiences, and by listening to their perspective. Putting in an effort to visit your loved ones will show them that they are still valued. This is especially true when you do this unrequested. Take the initiative and witness the joy in their eyes as they see that you deeply care about them. Anticipating your visit gives them something to look forward to.
How Should We Spend This Time?
How you spend this time with your loved one will depend on their health condition and interests. Think about things that they used to do in their spare time, and find related activities that you can both engage in. Only use this as a starting point though, and communicate with them to determine what they want to do. People do change and they lose old interests, while gaining new ones.
Even when interests have remained the same, your loved one’s health may prevent them from engaging in these activities in the same way. Think of alternatives that still allow them to participate in beloved activities. If your loved one was very active and played a sport such as volleyball, you could take them to a game instead. If that is not possible, you could watch one with them on television.
Using picture albums is also a great way to revisit memories. Old pictures throughout your loved one’s lifetime will spark old stories and new conversations. Present day photos of the rest of your family will keep them informed, as they take pride in the positive changes they may not be able to see day to day. Simply talking to your loved is another excellent use of your time together. Make use of all the experience that they have, and ask for advice if there is something you are not sure about. They will be honored, and it will make them feel needed.
Sometimes we may not be able to personally visit due to issues of location, but we can still show our loved ones they are being thought of by calling them on the phone. Use video if possible on platforms such as Skype. Also consider mailing a letter. Your loved ones grew up in a time where this was a common practice, and taking the effort to do so will show how much you care.
Do Not Let Time Slip Away
Take the time to step back and reflect on why it is that you spend so many hours a week at your job. You want to provide a better future for yourself and the ones you love—your family. This desire is admirable, but remember that if you give up too many moments in the present for the pursuit of an arbitrarily better future, there will not be much time actually left in that future. Children grow up, people drift apart, and loved ones pass on.
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