We modern people have the possibility, the opportunity to set up our lives in a way so there's time to contemplate. But the ability to constantly stimulate ourselves, and the enticements to do so, make it difficult for our brains--which are wired to chase after the next new stimulation--to actually think about the question: What is the real priority of being a human being, alive today?
Here's a passage where Atsuko Watanabe, Chapter 2 of A Different Kind of Luxury, talks about this:
After a moment of consideration, Atsuko says, “What I really want is more time.”
I look up at the clock. We’ve been talking now for almost four hours. I compare this with how hard it is for my English students to make time for even a one hour lesson, once a week. People are insanely busy here.
Atsuko Watanabe in the summer rice fields
Then Atsuko adds, “Long ago people probably didn’t have time either.” I imagine rural life of two centuries ago, peasants struggling all day long, every day, just to provide enough to survive. “They were really busy; they couldn’t realistically expect or seek having more things or time. Now, as long as you don’t desire too many things,you can have some time.”
I recall now what Atsuko said years ago when I first met her, that her priority has been to have the time to muse and reflect and really think about things. She’s been making this her priority for years. The results, I speculate, are the subtlety of her thinking, and the deeply considered nature of her choices. Perhaps it is simply about making sure that you have time for yourself. “Most people have directed their attention toward having things more than time, and that’s why they are always running.”
One of the opportunities that we have, that perhaps people in traditional, or less "developed" societies don't necessarily have, is the ability to see how chasing after money doesn't necessarily lead to happiness. So what the people I profiled in the book have done is to take that opportunity that modern material abundance gives us, and not try to just run after the symbols of success, but to cherish the opportunity to live really rich lives.
What will you do with yours?