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Why you need to count time, not money

Monday, October 17, 2016 4:23
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time-moneyby Oliver Burkeman

Should you choose time over money, or money over time? This is one of those so-called dilemmas of happiness that isn’t really a dilemma at all, because the answer’s so painfully obvious. Circumstances might oblige you to choose money over time. But if you truly, ultimately value a large bank balance over meaningful experiences, you’re what’s known in the psychological literature as a doofus. Money, after all, is just an instrument for obtaining other things, including time – whereas time is all we’ve got. And to make matters worse, you can’t save it up: if money worked like time, every new deposit into your account would be immediately eliminated by a transaction fee of exactly the same size. However much you hate your bank, it’s surely not that bad.

And yet we do choose money over time, again and again, even when basic material wellbeing doesn’t demand it. Partly, no doubt, that’s because even well-off people fear future poverty. But it’s also because the time/money trade-off rarely presents itself in simple ways. Suppose you’re offered a better-paid job that requires a longer commute (more money in return for less time); but then again, that extra cash could lead to more or better time in future, in the form of nicer holidays, or a more secure retirement. Which choice prioritises time, and which money? It’s hard to say.


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