Here’s a method for transforming a frustrating situation — like sitting in traffic — into a tolerable, even pleasant experience. Just say to yourself, “This is the time of my life!”

Are these words going to make everything better, as if by magic? Surely not. The magic comes from believing them, if you can.

But how might you persuade yourself that sitting in traffic is really the time of your life? As the hundreds of cars in front of you refuse to budge, you’re thinking, “This is hell. I hate it. I can’t wait for this situation to be over!” But “the time of one’s life” refers to “an extremely pleasurable experience” or “an occasion of outstanding enjoyment.” Safe to say, you don’t think of traffic as an occasion of outstanding enjoyment.

To believe that a frustrating situation is really the time of your life — that’s where the “method” comes in. What’s on offer here is an interpretive method. Imagine that the words, “I’m having the time of my life,” have already been written down — they comprise a miniature “text” — and now you’re going to explore different interpretations of the text as it applies to your current situation. You’re going to search for a meaning in the text that you can embrace. We’ll look at three possibilities.

Interpretation 1: Time is luck

An interesting way to interpret the phrase, “the time of one’s life,” is to focus on the word “time.” When you say “This is the time of my life,” you could mean, “These are the seconds, minutes, and hours that make up my life. I’m lucky to have them.”

We all want time, don’t we? We want to live long lives. The quest for a fountain of youth is age-old. Treasures are spent each day, attempting to forestall death by a little bit. The field of life extension has never lacked customers. Longevity is the stuff of blessings: “Live long and prosper!”

Well here it is, right now, as you wait in traffic — here’s some of that coveted stuff called time. It’s yours. These very moments that you’re living through — they’re a little chunk of the precious time you’ve been given as a sentient being on planet Earth. They’re a portion of your total allotment.

Time seems to slow down in the face of frustration and discomfort: an unpleasant situation drags on forever. In a way that’s good, right? It means more time for you — at least, the perception of more time: the experience of a longer hour, the feeling of a day that keeps on going.

Of course, when a situation is truly unpleasant, we wish time would behave in the opposite way, that it would speed up and pass quickly, so that we wouldn’t have to suffer a lengthy ordeal. But would you make a trade? Would you choose to fast-forward through an annoying experience right now if, as payment for that privilege, you’d have to forfeit that same amount of time at the end of your life? Would you choose the luxury of skipping a present discomfort in exchange for an accelerated death?

There’s a possible future in which this trade could be a good one. If the last phase of your life turns out to be full of suffering, then perhaps you’d be glad to shave off a little bit of time at the very end.

But you probably have no idea how the end of your life is actually going to take shape. Each moment in your final days might be felt — by you and by the people who are close to you — as indescribably precious. In that case, it would be a terrible deal to sacrifice some of those invaluable final moments so you wouldn’t have to sit in traffic now.

Sitting in traffic might feel like a “waste” of time — certainly it’s not your ideal way of spending time — but it’s still part of the time you get.

Whenever time is is not filled with the thing you want, there’s a temptation to imagine how you could have used it instead. But to get lost contemplating an imaginary choice between sitting in traffic and, say, sipping a martini on the beach — that’s only a recipe for intensified frustration. To imagine ways you could have avoided this traffic and gotten something better — that’s not an application of imagination that will aid you now.

If you want to imagine a choice, don’t imagine past ones that can’t be remade. Think about an available choice instead. Would you choose to guard, to keep, to defend this time that you’re living through right now — traffic and all — or would you let it be stolen from you by an unscrupulous thief? You want to keep your time, right? You don’t want a thief to run away with your time. Who is the thief who could do this? Only you have the power to rob yourself of time’s value, by cursing it, by wishing it away.

If you’re lucky enough that your life turns out to be long, then this time spent sitting in traffic right now will be a part of all the time that adds up to make it long. In that sense, this traffic ordeal contributes to your longevity.

Time flies when you’re having fun, they say. If that’s true, then isn’t it sort of good that you’re not always having fun? Your whole life could fly by in an instant.

Could you accept it as slightly fortunate that there are long, arduous, seemingly interminable experiences in ample supply, ready and waiting to serve you? Ready to serve as ballast, ready to make life feel weighty and substantive, ready to keep time from seeming to move too fast, ready to help you perceive whatever vastness there is to be found in the time you’ve been given?

Could you accept it as slightly fortunate that you’ve got this time to sit in traffic rather than not having this time at all?

Interpretation 2: Directing one’s own attention is a privilege

Another way to interpret the phrase, “This is the time of my life,” is to apply it to an overlooked aspect of your current experience, something other than waiting for the traffic to move. What’s something else that you’re doing right now? Is there anything more you’re doing as you wait that could plausibly give you “an extremely pleasurable experience”?

You’re also breathing right now.

And if you have the mental bandwidth to fret over the traffic, then you have the bandwidth to practice breath awareness. You can try to focus your attention on the sensation of each alternating inhale and exhale. You can nudge your breath cycle to be a bit smoother, slower, and calmer as you sit. You can keep doing this until you’ve noticed a small change.

Waiting in traffic might not be “the time of your life” but practicing breath awareness can be pretty great.

The key is to recognize that this practice is a privilege. As a human who’s been afforded a bunch of years to be alive on his planet, you are not guaranteed the opportunity to focus your attention on breathing at any particular time.

A situation could be so taxing as to demand all of your attention and leave you no room to be aware of your breathing. A situation could be so alarming as to make you hyperventilate uncontrollably, stealing your ability to shape the way you breathe. You could be coughing and sneezing with a bad cold. You could have grown up in a way where you wouldn’t have the patience to practice breath awareness, or where you wouldn’t have the conviction that this practice is worthwhile.

Whenever you can connect with your breathing and sustain the connection, that’s good fortune. If you’re able to breathe calmly and smoothly right now, then you’ve succeeded: you’re not too distracted to do it, you’re not too agitated to do it, you’re not too sick to do it, you’re not too ignorant of its value to do it. You’ve found a source of inner poise amidst a frustrating situation. You’ve been able to repurpose that frustrating situation as laboratory for the ancient practice of breathwork — the same practice that meditators, monks, and yogis consider as a path to enlightenment. You’re walking that path along with them.

Indeed, if you meditate, you know that simple, sustained breath awareness can lead to great calm, and sometimes beyond, into a state of bliss. While you might not be feeling blissful right now, as the traffic continues, you’ve still been able to use this time to perform a practice that can lead to bliss. You get credit for cultivating that practice — the investment can only benefit you.

If you have the privilege of practicing breath awareness right now, there’s a case to be made that this really is the time of your life. It’s a special moment that has the potential to rise to the level of outstanding pleasure. The moment gains this potential because of how you’re choosing to spend it, how you’re choosing to focus your attention.

Interpretation 3: Humor Helps

Now we come to a third interpretation, where we take the idiom “the time of one’s life” to mean what it’s supposed to mean without any interpretive tricks. We’re left with the straightforward premise that sitting in traffic is so wonderful, it’s just the best thing there is. This is the claim that seems ridiculous — the one we can’t get ourselves to believe — so what use is it to say this?

One possible use of the phrase, “this is the time of my life,” taken in the standard sense, is to disrupt the flow of negative thoughts. If you’re still thinking, “This is hell. I hate it. I can’t wait for this situation to be over!” then saying “This is the time of my life!” is a way to shake things up, even if you don’t really believe it. It’s a polite way to tell the negative thoughts to shut up.

A second use is comic relief. “This is the time of my life!” could be a sarcastic comment that you make to express how much you disdain the experience of sitting in traffic. Mindfulness techniques and positivity culture can seem overly earnest and humor-free at times, but here’s a chance to bring some snark into the mix. If the snark creates some levity or brings even the hint of a smile, then go for it. “Yeah, traffic. Loving every moment — time of my life!”

Sarcasm transforms “This is the time of my life!” into a negative thought itself, but you needn’t linger on the bitter aftertaste of the sarcasm. You can instead linger on the feeling of being able to laugh a little bit, which is positive.


If you’ve explored these three interpretations of “This is the time of my life” as they relate to your present situation, whether it be traffic, root canal, taxes, boring meeting, delayed flight, dinner companion who won’t stop talking, whatever, then the phrase should have acquired some depth in your mind by now. It’s become more than a superficially ridiculous thing to say in the present situation. You’ve found meanings inside the phrase that you can begin to believe. You’ve noticed some practical utility that the phrase might hold.

Now it’s time to let all those meanings and possibilities blend together in your mind, so that “This is the time of my life!” is no longer bound to one specific meaning, but it comes to represent all of them together — all the of angles you’ve considered, all of the ways you’ve looked for sense in those words.

If you’ve followed the interpretations presented here, then you’ve considered the phrase in three specific ways. You’ve seen it as an expression of appreciation for the time you’ve been given. You’ve seen it as an affirmation your good fortune to be breathing with awareness and intention right now, even as the frustrating situation continues. And you’ve seen it as a way of interrupting a torrent of negative thoughts and injecting a bit of comic relief into the situation.

  1. “This is the time of my life — it’s some of the time I get.”
  2. “This is the time of my life because I have the privilege of breathing with awareness right now.”
  3. “This is the time of my life — not!”

Now try keeping all those ideas in mind at once as you say it:

“This is the time of my life!”

Maybe it is? ■

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