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How to get perspective

Life is amazing. But sometimes it can be hard to remember this when we're stuck in the grind and distractions of our daily lives.

The solution is to develop a sense of perspective. This can help us think more clearly and wisely about our lives, ambitions, values and concerns - both in a broad sense and day-to-day.  For example, when you consider your place as a speck in the massive universe, do some of your daily concerns seem so important? 

We hope this video and the article below will help you build this perspective and give you a sense of awe and wonder about your life. We also hope it prompts you to consider some big questions, see life differently and start to live the life you really want. At the bottom of the article below we’ve listed some further resources that could help too.

We’ve also produced a version of this video for teachers and parents to show to children to encourage a discussion about some of the big questions of life - from ‘what matters in my life?’ through to ‘how should I treat other people?’. Some initial notes for teachers are also available in the ‘formats’ section below.


Perspective video for children - Click here to view                                    
This is the same basic video but with a different ending, to encourage conversation between children and teachers or parents
Notes for teachers when using video - Click here to download (55 Kb)    
A set of brief notes for teachers on how to use the film to stimulate further conversation and learning in the classroom.

Text version


Your place in the universe

The universe is massive.  In fact, it's so large that it can be difficult for us to comprehend, as the scale is so much greater than anything we're used to imagining.  

Let's start with our own solar system and work outwards from there.

Our solar system

We live on the third planet away from the Sun in our solar system.  

Most of the models or pictures you will have seen of the solar system fail to give an accurate impression of its scale - simply because it is so large.  Here is a quick thought experiment (borrowed with thanks from NOAO) to illustrate the scale of the solar system.

Imagine the Earth (8,000 miles wide in reality) is the size of a peppercorn.  At this scale, the Sun (800,000 miles wide) is about the size of a bowling ball (8 inches).  So, one inch of this model represents a hundred thousand miles in reality.

• The first planet from the Sun - Mercury - will be the size of a pinhead, 10 yards away from the Sun
• The second planet - Venus, will be the size of a peppercorn, 19 yards away from the Sun
• Earth, the third planet, will also be the size of a peppercorn, 26 yards away from the Sun
• Mars, the fourth planet, is the size of a pinhead, 40 yards away from the Sun
• Jupiter is the size of a chestnut, 135 yards from the Sun
• Saturn is smaller, the size of an acorn, 247 yards from the Sun
• The seventh planet, Uranus, is the size of a peanut, 496 yards from the Sun
• The eighth planet, Neptune, is also the size of a peanut, 777 yards from the Sun - nearly half a mile away, even at this scale.

To bring this to life, go outside and walk the distance to each 'planet', using one stride as a yard.

And just in case that hasn't blown your mind, here's one final thing to consider.  If the Earth was the size of a grain of sand, our solar system (out to the planet Neptune) would be as big as a cathedral.  

Our galaxy

Nearly all the stars we can see with the naked eye are in our galaxy, the Milky Way. Our Sun is just one of at least 100 billion stars in our galaxy, most of which have their own planets and solar systems too.

The Milky Way is a spiral galaxy, and according to NASA, "the stars are arranged in a pinwheel pattern with four major arms, and we live about two-thirds of the way up one of them."

The nearest star to the Sun, Proxima Centuri, is 40,000,000,000,000 (forty trillion) kilometers away. To make sense of these vast distances, astronomers measure distance using 'light years' - one light year being the distance light can travel in one year. This is about 9,000,000,000,000 kilometers - so Proxima Centuri is around 4.2 light years away.  

Our galaxy is about 100,000 light years across.  So, if our solar system was the size of a grain of sand, our galaxy would be 1,000 times bigger than a cathedral. 

So that's just the size of our own galaxy.  When you look beyond this, things get truly mind-boggling.

Our universe

The nearest galaxy to ours is the Andromeda galaxy. This is around 2.5 million light years away.

The visible universe (the universe that we can see with the aid of the best telescopes) contains around 10 billion (10,000,000,000) galaxies. Each one of those galaxies contains around 100 billion (10,000,000,000) stars.

So, the visible universe contains 10,000 billion (10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) stars.  There are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on our planet.

The visible universe stretches around 13 billion light years from the Earth.  So, let's now put the overall scale of the universe into context - and even using objects we can recognise, the scale is hard to comprehend:

• If the Earth was the size of a grain of sand, our solar system (out to the planet Neptune) would be as big as a cathedral

• Then, if our solar system were the size of a grain of sand, our galaxy would be 1,000 times bigger than a cathedral

• Finally, if our galaxy were the size of a grain of sand, the visible universe would be as big as a cathedral.

Read on...

The size of our solar system in context (and a great classroom resource) -

The size of the universe in context -

Your planet

Life supporting

According to BBC Science, "Earth's distance from the Sun is thought to be one of the key reasons why it is home to widespread life. Our planet occupies what scientists sometimes call the Goldilocks zone. Its distance from our star means it is neither too hot, nor too cold to support liquid water - thought to be a key ingredient for life. Astronomers are searching for rocky planets like ours in the Goldilocks zones of other stars."

Our planet, Earth, is currently the only planet known to support life in the universe, although it is quite possible that others do too, given the scale of the universe and the known existence of other planets in the Goldilocks zones of other stars.

Read on...

How the Earth works (BBC science site) -

Your place in history

The universe, Earth and life

Scientists believe the universe was formed 13.7 billion years ago in the Big Bang.  The planet Earth was formed around 4.5 billion years ago.

The first microscopic life appeared on Earth 3.7 billion years ago, and a vast amount of time passed before animals evolved to appear on land around 400 million years ago. 

You are a member of the species homo sapiens, and your species evolved around only 200,000 years ago - a flicker in the overall life of the planet and the species that have lived on it.  As the great Carl Sagan noted, if the history of the universe was compressed into one year, human beings and all of human history would only have been around for the last 10 seconds.

The earliest evidence of humans wearing clothes was 78,000 years ago, and agriculture began only around 9,500 years ago.  Many of the key developments in human history like this that we take for granted have taken place reasonably recently.

The last 200 or so years of human history have featured some even more rapid changes and development in science and technology (from the discovery of electricity to the invention of the motor car) that have changed the way we understand the world and live our lives.  

These changes have also had a significant impact on our planet. From the massive increase in our use of the planet's natural resources through to the development of urban areas, roads and agriculture to service the rapidly growing human population, these changes have threatened some of the other estimated 8.7 million species that live on Earth.

Read on...

Carl Sagan - the Cosmic Calendar -

Big history project -

"What on Earth Happened? Brief" - by Christopher Lloyd 

Your place as a person

You are one of a population of 7 billion people living on Earth.  This population is expected to rise to nearly 10 billion by 2050.


There are big differences in wealth across the global population.  For example, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per person in the USA is $54,629.50, whereas in Malawi it's $815.10 - a 67-fold difference.  In Tanzania, 73% of the population live on less than $2 per day.  Inequality also exists within individual countries and communities.

There are also extremes of wealth distribution in the world, with a small number of particularly rich people.  For example, 85 of the world's billionaires have the same wealth as the bottom 50% of the world’s population.

Life expectancy 

Average life expectancy across the world has doubled in the last hundred years, and is now around 71 years.  There are however significant differences between countries - for example, in 2013 average life expectancy at birth in the UK was 81 years and in Angola it was 52 years.

Childhood and education

Your life and education prospects will be very different depending on the country you live in.  For example, in the UK 98% of children attend primary school, whereas in Chad only 32% of children get this opportunity.

Read on...

Find out how rich you are compared to the rest of the world -

See how life expectancy and wealth in the world have changed in the last 200 years -;example=75

Your life

All of this perspective leads us to here - this final part of the puzzle - your own life.  So let's summarise this perspective and see where it leads us.

You are alive.  Isn't that amazing?

We live on a planet that is a tiny speck in the universe, and that has the highly fortunate placement in its solar system to be able to accommodate life.  Through a lucky draw in the evolutionary lottery, you were born and have survived up to this point where you are now reading this.  What’s more, you have been born into a species with the capacity to reflect on your own existence – a quality that, as far as we know, most other species do not possess.

Somehow, you have emerged temporarily out of the non-experience of not-living, to be alive for a brief period of perhaps 80 years or so. 

Because you’re reading this, you’re also likely to have the great fortune to have been born in a country with a reasonable level of wealth, along with much better education and life prospects than many other people on this planet.

So what are you going to do with this time you've got to exist?

So what are you going to do with your life?

It's not as easy as it looks to answer this question.  We're not born with an instruction manual on how to deal with life.  When we're young our parents and teachers do their best to teach us about the world and how to be decent people.

But what we're taught is often limited to particular subjects - those that will teach us basic skills and get us employment, but not those that enable us to see life clearly or learn the art of living.  Yes, we need to learn how to read, write and earn a living, but surely we also need to learn how to see the reality of our lives and the world clearly and live the lives we really want?

As a consequence, many of us end up as adults taking life and the opportunity it presents for granted.  We fail to see or acknowledge the reality that we only have a few years to exist.  We struggle to find our way through life, live the lives we want or make good decisions.  

We end up being pulled along by the tide and fitting in with the dominant values of the people and society around us - even if our instincts are telling us this is not making us happy. For instance, we take jobs we don't really want, buy more things we don't really need, seek approval from people we don't really like - the list goes on.  And then we reach the end of our lives shocked that they've passed us by and unable to accept that they will actually come to an end.

This is made even harder by the modern world we live in.  In many ways we’re very lucky to be living as westerners in the modern world. We’ve got more material wealth than ever before, better education, better healthcare and more opportunities in life.  But we also live in a world that is more complex than ever before. We are also faced with a wide range of influences and pressures on our identities from childhood onwards, including consumerism, the pressure to seek material success and the need to be thin. For example, each of us is subject to around 1,600 commercial messages every day. 

So, there is strong pressure from a range of sources around us in our lives - from adverts to our friends and families - to live and see life in a particular way and have certain aspirations.  And it can be easy to slip into a life based on this dominant worldview without even thinking about it, even though it may not be the right one for us.   In summary, the modern world makes it hard to see the world clearly and carve out the lives we really want.  

Life Squared's aim is to fill in this gap - to teach people the art of living well.  We won't tell you how to live - that's up to you.  But we will empower you to live the life you really want.  We'll do this by helping you to get a fresh and inspiring perspective on your life and the world, and giving you some ideas to help you live in a smart way - and in the way you really want.

So let's ask the question again - what are you going to do with this time you've got to exist?

You could allow yourself to be pulled along by the tide like other people, work in a job you hate for too many hours to buy stuff you don’t really want and die without having really thought clearly about life, what it could offer or how you really want to live it. Or, you could take a step back, understand your world and take control of life on your own terms. 

Life Squared helps you to do this.

This life is yours to live.  Now, live it wisely.

Where do you want to go next?

If this has inspired you and you want to take action now - here are some links to just a few of our resources - start exploring them, and your life, now!  For a full list of our publications, click here.

Learn how to really appreciate life (How to appreciate life)

See if a millionaire is really happier than you (The millionaire's story)

Stop consuming so much (How to consume less)

Reduce your CO2 emissions by a masssive amount (What can I do?)

Take some pressure off yourself (How to achieve less)

Make your life better by thinking about death (How to think about death - and life)

Find more solitude or stop feeling lonely (How to be alone (but not lonely))

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