How many times have you felt like you raced through your day only to get to the end and wonder where the time went? We’ve all been there. Pedaling hard and fast to get through the never-ending to-do list.
It doesn’t matter that we all measure time in the same seconds, minutes, hours, days, and weeks, one of the most revolutionary concepts that we learned in the 20th century is that time is not a universal measurement. Einstein’s theory of relativity conceptualizes time dilation as a difference of elapsed time between two events as measured by observers that are either moving relative to each other, or differently, depending on their proximity to a gravitational mass. Basically, it states that the faster we go, the more time is affected.
But it doesn’t take a genius to know that the more hurried we are, the more stressed we are. Just hearing the word hurry generates a stress response in the brain.
When the cardiologists Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman were researching personality types in the 1950s, they coined the term “hurry sickness” to describe the tendency to perform tasks quickly and to get flustered when encountering delays. By 1959 they had refined this to the now-classic term type A personality, a key element of which was a “harrying sense of time urgency.”
Being in a hurry doesn’t just increase our stress level (which often decreases our mental acuity), it also affects our level of compassion and altruism. We are less likely to help others in need or go out of our way to do good deeds. Back in 1970, a Princeton study examined what factors determined whether a person took the time to help another human in need.
The participants were seminary students at Princeton Theological. Upon arrival at the study administrator’s office, each was asked to prepare a short talk on career paths of seminarians and given some reading material for inspiration. Half the participants received a sheet of paper with questions and ideas about the best use of a seminary education. The other half received a copy of the famous New Testament parable of the Good Samaritan.
The administrator instructed the participants to walk over to a different building to share their talk. They were handed a map outlining a route that took them through an alley to the next building. When they got to the alley, they came upon a man slumped on the ground moaning in distress.
Here was the experiment: Who would stop to help, like the Good Samaritan, and who would walk right on by?
Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.
What the participants didn’t know was that the groaning man was actually a member of the research team. He observed some people hurrying past without acknowledging him and others who looked but didn’t stop. Some paused briefly to ask if the man was all right. And then there were a few “superhelpers” who guided the man inside to find help.
The researchers examined the influence of situational variables and religiosity, as measured by several personality scales. They hypothesized that priming the students to think about the Good Samaritan would make them more likely to help—a demonstration of the power of scripture to inspire moral behavior. However, their analysis showed no statistically significant difference with any of the variables – except one: time.
Students who were told to hurry to their destination were significantly less likely to stop to help a man in pain. Students who were told they had a bit of spare time to make the walk stopped more frequently and offered more substantial forms of help.
Time is one of our most valuable resources, and as this study shows, it is also one of the most significant barriers to social connection.
Lack of time—or our perception of lack of time—is a central factor in being stingy with our time helping others.
A famous 2012 study by a trio of professors from Wharton, Yale, and Harvard examined how we can counteract the feeling of “hurry worry.” Their research demonstrates that people’s subjective sense of time affluence can be increased.
Results of four experiments revealed a counterintuitive solution to the common problem of feeling that one does not have enough time: Give some of it away. They compared spending time on other people with wasting time, spending time on oneself, and even gaining a windfall of “free” time, and found that spending time on others increases one’s feeling of time affluence.
So, the next time you find yourself coming down with a bad case of “hurry sickness,” the best antidote may be to be generous with your time. Giving time to others actually makes you feel like YOU have more time. Time is one of our most valuable resources. Sharing it with others is time well spent.
Do more things that make you forget to look at your phone.