Research Reveals Who You Spend Your Time With Across Your Life

Many years ago, this blog writer Chris Guillebeau wrote this short blog post about how the simple, boring stories in our lives can have as much meaning as more amazing moments in our lives. At the time, I saved the post, hoping to read it later but expecting never to get to it. Now, in 2022, I read the story and realized how relevant it was to a moment I just had.

Chris’s point was that the uneventful moments you spend with someone matter just as much as those meaningful moments with them, like standing beside them at the altar or fighting with them in a war. He focuses on a simple memory he had with his brother, one where they catch up at a bar, don’t say anything that important or memorable, and then say their goodbyes.

At face value, it seems like a boring story. Stories these days seem to need something more compelling to hook people in, like adventure, a life-threatening conflict or villain they have to overcome, and a big decision. Yet for Chris, he loves this story and thinks very fondly of this moment and wishes he can have it again because he lives on the other side of the country from his brother and it was a special moment to spend time together and introduce him to a new drink.

I think why Chris’s story holds so much value and why this resonates with me is because this story has a strong relationship that means a lot to him. It’s a relationship that is to be cherished and, due to geographic limitations (the conflict), has a limited time window to cherish. I haven’t spent more than a couple days (for Christmas) each year with my sister for the last twelve years. After we went off to college, she went off to another part of the country.

Recently, I became aware of how little time we have with our loved ones once we become an adult. According to various research, the time we spend with family drops noticeably after we leave adolescence; then, we spent more time with a partner, coworkers, and children, until eventually, we spent a lot more time alone. If you’re visiting your parents one day every year as an adult, for instance, and you have say, 50 years left of life, that’s literally only 50 days left that you’ll spend with them.

Jesse Itzer was the one who first pointed this out to me, and his point was to realize that and spend a lot more time with your parents. I didn’t feel like that meant I had to restructure my whole life to do that. I was lucky enough to live close to my mother for a good portion of my twenties because of my job, which meant I spent a lot more time with her than most. It meant that we should all be more thoughtful of how we spend our time. Spending time alone isn’t bad if that’s what you prefer; in fact, I spent a lot of time alone already due to work and lifestyle. Spending time away from parents is fine if that’s what you prefer (or your parents are overbearing). But being unaware and missing out on time you want to spend with family when you could’ve prevent that is something you can change. For me, I felt I should pay more attention to how I spent my time after I moved away and how I spent time with my other siblings and family members.

So, back to my sister. I felt like we grew apart as we lead our separate lives. But then, I decided to visit her thanks to my new remote WFH job.

When I first arrived, I wasn’t sure if we would get along. Would we get into fights like we used to? Was there still a chasm between us? Best to keep things positive, healthy, and loving. In my heart, I will always love my sister; I just didn’t know where we were at. I brought gifts (card games, food, a potted plant), and I put my best foot forward. This was a time to spend time to her. It’d be a short visit, but a nice one.

I slowly started to extend my stay there as we warmed up to each other and realized the care we had for each other. Every interaction we had was basically positive. I got along with her and the roommates. I realized she worked a lot and spent most of the day and night working. I respected her work ethic, and  I cherished the moments we found to interact together when she was free or when she invited me to her workplace. I realized she still loved and cared for me. Despite how busy she was, she made time to invite me to her events, bring me food if she ended up getting some food, or just trying to include me in stuff.

Like Chris’s story, there was no big life-threatening conflict or life decision to be made. It was arguably rather mundane. A brother spending a couple months with his sister after being apart for a while. Yet I have memories with her that will last a lifetime, memories I will cherish and wouldn’t have obtained if I didn’t take on a remote job and have the crazy idea to visit her with that job. I survived my first hurricane with her and learned to charcoal grill with no power in the house for a few days. I attended a Halloween costume party with her coworkers that got crazy enough that we invited an older lady neighbor over. I laughed and bonded over a few movies and TV shows we watched together. We got ice cream while looking at a line of palm trees by a pier. We picked out items to buy at Costco. We sang karaoke together at a company function.

These experiences literally wouldn’t have happened had I chose not to change my life and find a remote job recently. I would’ve continued to live a more boring life in my hometown, probably not doing as much or getting invited to as much since I lived in a suburb up north. While I still would have been content if I didn’t make the change, I think my relationship with my sister would have just been okay, not as good. It would’ve just been one where I think fondly of her, but I only see her maybe¬†on Christmas, have brief, surface, but loving conversations with — and then, I go back to my own life, thinking that there’s still some distance between us. Now, I think we’ve rekindled that relationship and really think fondly of each other, which is great.

At the time I felt like it was right to depart, it was sad saying farewell to her. I knew that she loved me and wished me the best. We both said we would miss each other. Yet this was life. I knew I wasn’t meant to stay in that town forever, and I knew that this is how modern life is. Just like Chris’s brother, we find our calling (or jobs) and move away to separate parts of the country or world. While some people get the luxury of having a lot of family nearby, many in the modern world have family who live in different states, provinces, or countries as they grow up and separate. If anything, I feel gratitude to be able to spend so much time with her.

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By Will Chou

I am the the founder of this site and I am grateful you are here to be part of this awesome community. I help hard-working Asian American Millennials get rich doing work they love.

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