Our life is embedded in time. Time flows from the past to the present, and from the present to the future. We know time by a clock. Even if we turn the hands of the clock backwards, however, we cannot go back to a past that has already gone. Physical time only flows in a single direction.
On the other hand, psychological time moves from the present as a starting point to the past or the future. Sometimes we feel happy or sad when recalling a past experience. We get excited or anxious when imagining an event in the future. Inside our mind, time goes back and forth across the present, the past, and the future.
Time perspective is a field of study that investigates such a psychological flow of time. The history of this study dates back to the 1930s. One social factor that triggered this study was the Great Depression. In October 1929, share prices were slashed at the New York Stock Exchange, and the impact reached the entire world instantly, as many workers lost their jobs. Many young people failed to find a job. There is more. Losing their means of livelihood, they were also deprived of their motivation to live and their hope for the future. In this way, the present circumstance influences our recognition of the future. The empirical study of time perspective has accumulated insights by examining such psychological states of the young (Tsuzuki and Shirai, 2007).
I started to study the research of time perspective in around 1980. At the time, teenagers’ delinquencies and suicides were major problems in society, against a backdrop to the change in circumstances surrounding school education. In the mid-1970s, the enrollment rate for high schools exceeded 90 percent, and that for universities topped 30 percent. Higher education was popularized and competition was heating up in entrance exams. Amid these circumstances, some students became desperate, committed acts of violence, or chose to kill themselves. They lost the motivation to live and their hope for the future as well. As a graduate student in psychology, I was looking for a keyword that captured their state of mind precisely. And I finally found the concept of time perspective.
We live in the time of the present and go through our lives toward the future. We sometimes learn a lesson from the past. We have three kinds of time—the present, the past, and the future—within our minds. We can imagine the past and the future while staying in the present. How we understand the past or the future depends upon circumstances in the present. This is clearly revealed by the two examples mentioned above.
Youth Living in Modern Times
So, what time perspective do the modern youth have? Let us consider it focusing on current university students.
They spent their childhood in the period from 1991 to 2002, which is called the Lost Decade. An economic bubble had burst, and a prolonged recession dragged on. This is a period that was called the Employment Ice Age. The depression still persisted after that, followed by the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. These are part of the landscape during the early development of current university students. Since they were born, they have always lived a life filled with economic downturns. The period in which they have lived can be considered as a sequence of negative circumstances.
What will their future look like? These days, their job hunting is becoming ever more severe. According to newspaper reporting, approximately 30 percent of men and 50 percent of women who were employed for the first time were part-time employees (Tokyo Shimbun Newspaper, Morning Edition, October 2013, p. 9). I feel as if I can hear their voice of grief saying, “we graduated from a university, but cannot earn a living.”
The term individual-responsibility, which has been widely used recently, also furthers their difficulty in living their life. If you graduated from a university but could not find a job, it would be your individual-responsibility. If you were employed by a sweatshop (black company[Burakku Kigyou], in Japanese) and left the company, it would be your individual-responsibility. The tendency of youth bashing is only growing. I feel as if I can hear their resentful voices saying, “I was born in this period not because I chose to do so.”
As seen above, the future of university students is certainly not bright. In fact, we might have to say that their future is dark. University students’ job hunting activities are being extended longer and longer, leading to a neglect of campus life, which should have been essential to students. The logic would be roughly as follows.
“Our future is dark, but I want to attain a bright future. I cannot achieve it if I concentrated on my studies. I need to set aside time for job hunting. The future (life after graduation) is more important than the present (campus life). So, job hunting is more critical than studying.”
In this manner, the present becomes hollowed out more and more for the sake of the future. This is a situation where the means and the end are confused. The future floating in the air not rooted in the present—we could use this metaphor to express time perspective that the youth of today have.
Don’t Do Today What You Can Put Off Till Tomorrow
The future is important to us. If you lose hope for the future, your motivation to live is also weakened. The present is, on the other hand, even more important to us. This is because we are destined to live in the present time. In other words, our time perspective is built up from the present as a starting point.
Today never returns. It is a precious and irreplaceable day in your life. How you spend this single day determines your way of life.
Don’t do today what you can put off till tomorrow—how should we understand the meaning of this phrase? A crucial key for living life is hidden here.
One possible interpretation is: “Tomorrow always comes, so you don’t have to try desperately to do it today. You can do it when tomorrow comes.” This is an idea of postponing something that you need to do.
Another interpretation is: “If you can do it tomorrow, just do it tomorrow. Today is a precious day that cannot be replaced with tomorrow. Today, you should do something you can do only today.” This is an idea of piling things up.
Which to choose is up to each individual, but I would take the latter option. I published my opinion in Personal Growth of the Youth Who Are Living in the Present [Ima wo Ikiru Wakamono no Ningenteki-Seicho] (Tsuzuki, 2011). This book is one of the entries in 125 Library [125 Raiburari], which was planned to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Chuo University. I wrote this book based on findings from the study on time perspective that I have carried on. Living the fulfilling present will result in your growth in the future—this is my message to readers.
The modern society changes rapidly and is uncertain. Living in it, we often have stress or uneasiness. It would be even more so for the young, as they have less experience and knowledge. They inevitably tend to be worried about their own life in the future. It would be life after graduation that university students are the most interested in about the future. Will my job hunting be successful? Will I get a job? What should I do for it? Driven by such concerns, you may feel compelled to move forward, and I can understand your feeling. What is important, however, is to live a fulfilling campus life. Classes, clubs, and various relationships—these are the activities that you can only experience in your college days. Steadily continuing these activities for four years is more important than anything else. The fulfilling present that has been so experienced feeds your life that will last long after graduation. It is the present that supports the future.
Live in this precious moment—that is the conclusion derived from the findings of the study on time perspective.
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Chuo UniversityArea of Specialization: Developmental Psychology
Born in Tokyo in 1951. Graduated from the Faculty of Education and the Master’s Program, Graduate School of Education, at the Tokyo University of Education. Withdrew from the Doctoral Program, Graduate School of Psychology, University of Tsukuba after completing the required course work. Received a doctoral degree in Education. Served as a Full-Time Lecturer and Associate Professor, Ogaki Women’s College, and an Assistant Professor, Faculty of Letters, Chuo University before assuming the current position in 1994. Dean, Graduate School of Letters from November 2009 to October 2013, and Dean, Faculty of Letters since November 2013.
He has consistently studied time perspective since around 1980. From 1997 to 2011, he explored the process of change in time perspective caused by environmental transition by means of longitudinal study, and published the findings in books and papers. His publications include: University Students’ Career Choice and Time Perspective [Daigakusei no Shinro Sentaku to Jikanteki-Tenbo] (Nakanishiya Shuppan, 2007); School Transition from Elementary to Junior High School and Time Perspective [Shogakko kara Chugakko e no Gakko Iko to Jikanteki-Tenbo] (Nakanishiya Shuppan, 2008); School Transition from Junior High to High School and Time Perspective [Chugakko kara Koko e no Gakko Iko to Jikanteki-Tenbo] (Nakanishiya Shuppan, 2009); and High School Students’ Career Choice and Time Perspective [Kokosei no Shinro Sentaku to Jikanteki-Tenbo] (Nakanishiya Shuppan, forthcoming).Since 2012, he has studied how time perspective develops in mutual relationships among different generations.