During this past Christmas season, I ventured into Rockefeller Center to work on a project with my friend. I also wanted to immerse myself in the magic that Manhattan has to offer, especially during that time of year when everything around us seems to emit a bit of sparkle. The glorious Christmas tree was gorgeous (as usual), the lights shimmered brightly, illuminating the sidewalks, and festive caroling could be heard.
And yet, the atmosphere didn’t feel quite right. I was being pushed and shoved in a sea of aggressive onlookers who were also eager to acquire a touch of the holiday spirit. Everyone was desperate and determined to snap a photo on their phone or their tablet.
The pace was fast. Movement was rushed. My friend and I wondered: were they really here to absorb the sights, or did they just hope to get a snazzy picture for Instagram and bustle onward?
There’s something to be said for those little moments — moments that can feel special if we give the immediate present a chance.
“At any given moment, I am in a particular place, with exactly the people I am with, in the circumstances we are in,” Miki Kashtan, Ph.D., said in a recent article article.
“It’s within that context, moment by moment, that I can find my most powerful self. Whenever I think about the people I would wish to be with instead to be more effective, or the activities that would be more meaningful, or any such thought, I literally take away from my power, in that moment.”
In Paige Koch’s Thought Catalog piece, she divulges her own observations in regards to living outside the moment. She views morning and evening commutes as a leading example — traffic is a source of aggravation, and a yearning to get to the destination, to the next step, ensues.
On one particular morning, Koch decided to take in the small moments that typically go unnoticed, whether it was the sounds of the subways or the foreign chatter of other passengers on the train. “All of these things were commonplace and ordinary, but as I exited the station, I found myself walking with purpose,” she said. “I felt alive and aware of the world.”
Wray Herbert, in a 2012 post, discusses the implications of time perception. He cites the phenomenon of “time famine” — the notion that we all have so much to do, but very little amount of time to do it, therefore rendering time as scarce. Herbert explains that our perception of time scarcity has been noted to deplete our self-discipline, disrupt sleep, undermine health, encourage fast food consumption, and will ultimately lead to a disregard for others.1
Psychological scientists Melanie Rudd and Jennifer Aaker of Stanford University and Kathleen Vohs of the University of Minnesota conducted experiments to gauge whether we can shift this perception of time and counter the adverse effects.
In the study, a group of volunteers were initially primed with a sense of awe. They watched an awe-inspiring experience, or read or wrote about one. Another group focused on neutral events.
Afterward, volunteers were asked about their perceptions of time. Individuals who were primed with a sense of awe perceived time as expansive and felt free of time’s constraint. Results of the study, which were published in the Journal of Psychological Science, illustrated that those who perceived time to be more expansive felt more satisfied with their lives.
“We can’t order up awesome experiences on demand — at least not the heavenly kind — but we can be mindful of such common opportunities for awe, which might alter the pervasive time-starved perspective that is distorting our modern sensibilities in many unhealthy ways,” Herbert said.
I personally feel that there is immense value in standing still, in breathing in the life around you. It’s in these moments that awe and appreciation can be cherished and appreciated. “I have a belief that life is the sum of small moments rather than one general picture,” Koch said. “The ordinary, over time, is what amounts to the extraordinary. Sometimes we just need to get out of our own heads long enough to realize it.”
- Well, maybe if the crowds in NYC didn’t feel so unbelievably pressed for time, I wouldn’t have tales of being poked and prodded at the Rockefeller tree. [↩]