How to have a good time

Without killing your soul.


The following excerpt is part 1 of a series from Fulton Sheen’s broadcast on “How To Have A Good Time”.


It is to be noted that almost everyone associates happiness or pleasure with time. Hence we speak of depressions, plagues, hot and cold wars as “bad times,” while pleasant companionship, good dinners and evenings out are identified with having a “good time.” Seneca has said “Time hath often cured the wound which reason failed to heal”; on the other hand, Doctor Johnson observes: “You cannot give an instance of any man who is permitted to lay out his own time, contriving not to have tedious hours.”

A “good” time is one of those catchwords which actually belies the true nature of happiness. The truth of the matter is that the greatest pleasures and joys come when we are unconscious of time.

The more conscious we are of the passing time, the less we enjoy ourselves. The clock watcher never enjoys his work. “Serving time,” a description of imprisonment, is synonymous with unhappiness and confinement. One prisoner who was sentenced to five years said to the judge: “I’ll not live that long.” The judge said: “At least, you can try.” Boredom is in part due to the inability to fill up time. People who overstay their time in visiting make one appreciate the reflection of Benjamin Franklin: “Fish and visitors smell after three days.” Once a visitor who had been standing on the doorstep for an hour, relating new items of gossip, finally said to her hostess: “I know there is something I forgot to say.” The hostess retoned: “Maybe it was ‘good-by?” The very phrase “killing time” signifies that existence in time can be depressing. A number of very obvious pleasures, and sometimes highly intellectual pursuits, are nothing else than “pass-times” by which man seeks to forget his temporality. The less conscious we are of the passing of time, the more we enjoy ourselves. In moments of sheer delight, we say: “The time simply flew”

Romantic love gets beyond time by eternalizing the present second; it makes time stand still, and tries to get beyond its succession by obliterating the past or future. The present moment of ecstasy, the dance, the music, the moonlight and a drive through the park, the joys surrounding graduation, all are rendered static; what is now will always be, without change or alteration. Movies, novels, short stories, and particularly narratives with passion as the theme, take a segment of life or time and, by an intense description of that moment, make it stand for life itself.

A young woman once brought a young man to see her father. Her father objected, saying: “He earns only $25 a week.” “I know; Daddy,” she answered “but when you’re in love, time passes so quickly”

Another evidence of the connection between timelessness and happiness is found in the fact that the “old men dream dreams, the young men see visions.” Both old and young seek to escape the moment in which they live; the young look forward in hope to better days, the old look back in retrospect and memory to the “good old days.” The old man becomes, in the language of Horace, “laudator temporis acti.” Youth wishes to hurry time; old age tries to slow it down.

Time makes it impossible to combine our pleasures. It prevents us from making a dub sandwich out of the various enjoyments of life. The mere fact that I exist in time makes it impossible for me to march in the army of Alexander and in the army of Caesar at the same time; it forbids the simultaneous thrill of Alpine ascents and Riviera pastimes; I cannot sit down to tea with both Homer and Vergil, or enjoy simultaneously listening to Aquinas on philosophy and Da Vinci on painting. We often see signs by the roadway which say: “Dine and dance,” but no one can do both at the same time.

Temporal goods cannot be enjoyed all at once. The characteristic of the temporal enjoyment of various goods and objects is that they must be enjoyed in succession. Some begin where others leave off. When something new comes, something that we had before is taken away. We cannot have the ripe wisdom and the reflective serenity of maturity together with the impetuousness and the adventurousness of youth. All are good; yet none can be enjoyed except in the season of life appropriate to it. What is true individually is true socially. However much we may gain by what we call the advance in civilization, something has to be surrendered. For instance, our life is being made more secure, but with greater security there is a loss of adventure.

Real happiness brings together all the joys we have ever had, concentrating them in one focal point, bringing together the thrill of living at every second of existence from infancy to maturity; the joys of discovering truth, such as the scientist, the philosopher may have; the ecstasy of love, whether it be a patriot’s for his country, a priest’s for his Lord, a spouse’s for his spouse. To intensify all this happiness in one focal point we would have to be outside time.

Happiness then has something to do with escape from time. But there can be a true and a false escape from time…

To be continued.