Wasting time with Seneca

14 Jun 2023

Life can get quite complicated - and sometimes, you need help from the world's greatest philosophers to figure it out. In her new blog, Jara Majerus looks at life through the philosophical monocle, employing the help of some of history's brightest thinkers. Today: Seneca and the complexities of wasting time.

Do you know what has been keeping me busy lately? Time. The whole concept of it. The fact that we as humankind have decided that there is something like seconds, minutes, and hours. That there are days that exist and turn into a week if you have seven of them. That we created calendars full of months that form years and based on how many years we have been on this earth, we spend our days a certain way.

A five-year-old, for instance, probably spends little time thinking about all of this. A twenty-five-year-old, on the contrary, spends a lot of our time thinking about it – or at least I do. More precisely, I think and worry a lot about wasting time.

I must admit that learning about philosophy did not help with this issue. It is especially the words of Seneca, the famous Roman philosopher, that stuck with me: ‘It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it.’ No, this is not a very soothing quote. Yes, I would have preferred it if Seneca said something along the lines of: ‘Time is a made-up concept and cannot be wasted’, but that is not what the philosopher said. So, let us see whether we can still find a solution to my problem with this quote.

‘I spend a lot of my time worrying about wasting my time, meaning that I waste a lot of time by worrying about wasting my time’

After further investigation, it appears that, essentially, for Seneca, time is wasted as soon as one does not fulfil fruitful tasks or if one has anxious thoughts. If this column was a movie, a little lightbulb would now appear on top of my head because I just realized the following: when looking at my situation through the eyes of Seneca, I must conclude that I am wasting time.

That is because I find myself in a rather absurd vicious circle: I spend a lot of my time worrying about wasting my time, meaning that I waste a lot of time by worrying about wasting my time. It’s so absurd that it would be funny – if it wasn’t causing me so many worries.

But then again (see the lightbulb returning), that’s the funny thing about it: by not worrying about wasting time, I will end my worries and my wasting – it’s a win-win situation! It is so easy that I am doubting whether Seneca would approve of my conclusion. But I won’t worry about it because – you guessed it – that would certainly be a waste of time.

Read Jara Majerus's blogs here

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1 Comment

  1. Seb wrote on 21 juni 2023 at 11:05

    Time is out of your control. It is finite. You are finite. It is your attention, which is the currency of time, that you should reflect on where it is spent.

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