“You know, you can have a good life with a lot of time and a little money” he said taking a brief pause, “but you can’t have a good life with a lot of money and a little time.”
It’s the perfect end to a multi-hour conversation. After shelling out a few slips of fiat currency and tucking the used books under my arm, I walk into the autumn day which now seems a bit calmer as I walk a bit slower…
What is Time-Wealth
According to Dictionary.com, “time” is “the continuous passage of existence in which events pass from a state of potentiality in the future, through the present, to a state of finality in the past”.
It relates etymologically to the word “tide” – that rhythmic flowing of water in-and-out-and-in-and-out-and … so on…
Under “wealth” from the same website, the first two entries are:
“a great quantity or store of money, valuable possessions, property, or other riches”.
“An abundance or profusion of anything; plentiful amount”
This first definition is what comes to mind most when they think of wealth, but it’s the second that is more useful to us now.
Time-wealth is an “abundance” or “plentiful amount” of “the continuous passage of existence”, or more precisely the “events” that “pass from a state of potentiality in the future, through the present, to a state of finality in the past.”
These “events” are quite interesting in themselves. In a fascinating interview with Edge magazine, the physicist Julian Barbour says:
My basic idea is that time as such does not exist. There is no invisible river of time. But there are things that you could call instants of time, or ‘Nows’. As we live, we seem to move through a succession of Nows, and the question is, what are they? They are arrangements of everything in the universe relative to each other in any moment, for example, now.
How is it Measured in our Lives
Time as it pertains to our lives can be measured in at least two ways. We can focus on the quantitative length and measure how short or long a space of time is. We can also focus on qualitative depth and measure how shallow or deep a space of time is.
Wealth in many people’s minds is largely material and quantitative: the owning of a lot of physical things (assets). However, the qualitative plays an immense role as well in that it judges the value of the assets. That is what determines wealth.
The value of a Dollar is more than the value of a Penny, so even though the person with 1,000 individual pennies has more physical stuff than the person with 11 $1 dollar bills, it’s the latter who is wealthier.
Likewise when it comes to time-wealth. The person with more qualitatively meaningful moments is wealthier than the person with a greater quantity of time who spends it in meaningless moments.
If we mix the two a goal emerges: to have a greater quantity of qualitatively richer time. This is a useful metric when it comes thinking about wealth and poverty in regards to time.
Time Wealth Tactics
We are often unaware of time.
When we want to become more aware of it we say things like “take the time” and “set aside time”. These phrases express our desires to get a physical hold on something so slippery and nonphysical.
So how do we get a hold on the un-holdable? (and is that even a word??)
Our ability to be aware of time is dependent upon our ability to hold awareness, so developing that presence is the first step in stealing back little bits of time and increasing your wealth.
Slowing down, through practices like modulating your breath and de-cluttering your life, can help one become more aware of time and more aware of how to prioritize it. Ask questions like: Who do I spend time with? How do I spend it with them? What does “wasting time” mean to me? How do I curtail that?
To tweak Ben Franklin’s financial advice of “a penny saved is a penny earned”, operate under the assumption that “a second saved is a second earned.” Try to earn more seconds by wasting less seconds in qualitatively poorer instants of time.
However, unlike saving for a distant retirement, these saved seconds are to be spent now in an expression of needs that will make the time “well spent”.
How this plays out in one person’s life obviously depends upon the life that person is living, but a common and widely applicable tactic is to focus on curtailing that compulsive itch to continuously check your phone. Instead of doing that, listen to this.
This generally accepted behavior not only saps enormous amounts of time, it also diminishes the space for boredom and day-dreaming. These two experiences are essential for creativity and creativity is essential for a meaningful life.
It comes down to what we mean by a meaningful life. Perhaps it has to do with positive freedom, what Erich Fromm viewed as the spontaneous expression of love and work.
Or maybe with pleasure, the ol’ Epicurean route… or in its more modern garb. Pleasurable things can be valuable, however continuously chasing pleasurable things can be a waste of valuable time and becomes surprisingly unpleasurable.
But enough of that for now.
You can learn a lot about something by focusing on its contraries. The contrary of the every-flowing movement of time is eternity, or at least profound stillness. This might be why travel writer Pico Iyer, someone obsessed with describing movement, stopped to write a book about “the art of stillness.”
Until next time…