Moments of awe and making rituals could be the key to feeling like you have more time
Written by Ellen Scott
Rushed off your feet? Feel like there’s never enough time in the day? We can’t magic up more hours (sorry), but what we can do is equip you with tools to make the time you spend feel more fulfilling, courtesy of expert Cassie Holmes.
“I just don’t have time.” How often do you say that? Once a day, at least?
Most of us feel rushed off our feet and with minimal time to ourselves (meaning: not dedicated to work, sleep, errands or admin). We try to tackle this with optimised time management skills, attempting to make every moment contain peak productivity, or cutting down on certain areas to claw back some space – goodbye, sleep.
The dream solution would be to simply have more time. But alas, that’s not going to happen. So what can we do instead?
In her book, Happier Hour, Cassie Holmes, professor at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, an award-winning teacher and researcher on time and happiness, attempts to answer that question.
One key tool she found for making us feel like we have more time, even if in actuality we don’t (sorry), is the power of awe. Holmes explains that when we immerse ourselves in awe, even for a moment, it can slow down that ‘sand through an hourglass’ feeling.
What actually is awe, you may ask? It’s basically when you’re exposed to something that is so big and wondrous that it makes everything else fade into the background. That sounds like quite a high standard to meet, we know, but many awe-worthy things are totally free and easy to access. Looking up at the sky, for example, and thinking about how many stars there are. Gazing out at the sea. Marvelling at the oldest, biggest tree in the park and considering all the years it took to get to this point.
And when you’re in awe, life’s daily grumbles don’t seem like such large problems. And time seems to expand. You feel like you have more of it.
“Awe expands our perspective and, with that, our sense of time,” Holmes tells Stylist. “It removes the sense of limitation. Events that have been shown to increase awe include being exposed to nature (seeing a beautiful sunset, for instance), intense social connection (holding a newborn baby) and witnessing incredible accomplishment (seeing an inspiring performance).”
The science backs this up. In one study, researchers found that when people feel awe, they also feel time-rich. This has a hugely beneficial effect on mental wellbeing.
So, to feel less time-poor and frantic, we need more awe. How do we get it? Holmes explains that we have to make time for it, remembering that the benefits may be further reaching than you realise.
“Put it into your schedule,” she advises. “Buy tickets to a live performance, go for walks outside while looking up instead of at your phone or engage with people you love.”
Of course, to experience awe, you can’t just wander to the beach or look up at the sky while still mentally running through your to-do list. You also need to change your perspective. Your mind has to be open to the idea of awe, and be able to savour it.
This neatly fits into another way to feel like you have more time (and feel happier as a result), according to Holmes: taking a moment to savour things that have become routine and turning certain periods of time into rituals.
When something is routine, we do it without really noticing it. Think about brushing your teeth or sitting on your sofa – you do it all the time, so it doesn’t occur to you to marvel at the mintiness of your toothpaste or the soft fabric of your couch. The answer isn’t to stop doing these things, of course, but to find a way to make some of them feel special.
“Routines are very helpful because they facilitate getting through our daily activities without having to exert much thought,” Holmes notes. “But that also means that we aren’t paying much attention while doing those activities, yet some of these activities offer immense joy.”
Not all routines have the ability to offer that joy, alas, but some might have hidden potential. And the way to unlock that is to turn them into rituals, which again has bonus benefits.
“To make an everyday activity that promises joy (eg family dinners or your weekly meetup with a friend for coffee) into something that actually gives you joy, one thing to do is to reframe that activity as a ritual,” Holmes tells us. “Doing this makes it special, gives it meaning, and leads you to savour this time.
“Research shows that couples who have shared rituals report greater relationship satisfaction and families who have shared holiday traditions are more likely to gather for the holidays and to enjoy their time together more. What rituals and traditions do is connect us to people across our days and years, which creates a profound sense of belonging. ”
Take a look at how you’re spending time each day, and consider whether any of those things that have become routine have the possibility of being made special. How can you make them awe-worthy, even on a smaller scale?
That might mean that your commute – which for many of us is a miserable timesuck – gets a makeover as a reading ritual. You might get the same seat on the same train each day and really savour opening a novel.
Or take your morning cup of tea. Rather than chugging that down in a rush, could you have a teatime ritual? Indulge in the fancy loose-leaf stuff, get yourself a jazzy teapot, and make it a whole thing.
This works because it helps to offset something called hedonic adaptation, which describes the act of getting used to something over time. This is helpful in reducing how uncomfortable bad experiences feel (if you get used to the ache of a good stretch and thus feel the discomfort less, that’s great), but it also reduces the satisfaction of moments that could be wonderful – it’s why the first bite of something delicious can taste great, but a few munches in you’re not really noticing its greatness. Or why a massive payrise is super exciting when you land it, but you don’t feel much happier month-to-month.
Creating rituals is a powerful tool in offsetting hedonic adaptation, whether you take an existing routine and make it a ritual or create an entirely new one. In her book, Holmes gives an example of having a Thursday morning cafe trip with her daughter. It’s a ritual because it’s a “momentous occasion” despite happening every week.
“It is fiercely protected in my calendar,” she writes. “It’s our treasured time, just the two of us. We transformed what would otherwise have been a routine caffeine stop. We turned this habit into a cherished, ritualised tradition. We gave it a name. We made it special.”
Thus, to offset hedonic adaptation, name the event, urges Holmes. Call the weekly dinner with your partner a Date Night. Have a Cafe Work Day with your colleagues every Friday. Your Sunday bath and face mask routine can become Self-Care Sunday.
“All of this is about celebrating these moments such that you can’t help but notice them,” writes Holmes. “It’s about sanctifying this time, making it more meaningful.”
Remember that these times are special. Bring awe to them. Savour them more. That’s how you slow time and really, truly appreciate the moments that matter.
Happier Hour by Cassie Holmes is available now (Penguin Life, £14.99).
Images: Getty; Stylist
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