Time is Not Money

For as long as I can remember we’ve been told time is money. But, of course, that’s not true. If time were money, I’d be rich, because I have all the time in the world.  Just to be sure, I checked my bank account. Yup. Time is definitely not money. Time is life.

Writer Billie Best goes to the dog park with her dog Moon

I blame Ben Franklin for this bit of misinformation. In 1748, the early days of the Industrial Revolution, he wrote an article called Advice to a Young Tradesman saying, “Remember that Time is Money” and admonishing workers that the way to build their wealth was to choose work over taking time to enjoy themselves doing other things. By Ben’s lights, if workers weren’t working, they weren’t getting paid and they were losing money. That was before golf.

Now we know the time is money formula fails to factor in both the benefit of happiness (health and wellbeing, personal development, community building, productivity) and the cost of unhappiness (chronic illness, depression, anxiety, anger, violence, crime). Certainly, money has a relationship to happiness and unhappiness, but it’s not the sole cause or cure. If money was all we need, the richest people in the richest country in the world would be the happiest people in the happiest country in the world — and we’re not.

The United States ranks 19th on the list of happiest countries in the world, and the countries that come before us on the list all have one thing in common. They’re more generous than we are, better at sharing and spreading the wealth of their nation. According to the World Happiness Report, which is science, not opinion — math, not woowoo — generosity is the defining characteristic of the happiest places on Earth.

Economists are measuring happiness because happiness actually has economic value. It’s not that money doesn’t matter. It’s that the system for earning money has become so oppressive that it creates as many problems as it solves. Work should be a way of getting ahead, not falling behind. People who devote their lives to work without feeling a sense of progress drift into hopelessness, and that unhappiness has real economic costs, most particularly healthcare and law enforcement. That’s why happiness is the new buzzword in economics. Ben Franklin’s formula for economic success valued the self-interest of greed over generosity. A better formula for success would be the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Generosity is also motivated by self-interest.

A happy country, like a happy person, maintains a balance between greed and generosity. Is your life in balance? It’s the season for evaluating ourselves and recalibrating our intentions. Consider generosity for a moment and see if you can work more of it into your plan. Remember, the happiest places are where people share the most. Share yourself, your home, your community, your humanity. Engage with the flesh and blood around you. Be generous. That’s the way for all of us to build wealth for ourselves and each other. Happy New Year.

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8 thoughts on “Time is Not Money

  1. Happy New Year Billie.

    We met at Bri Fitzpatrick’s wedding. We’re friends of Annette and Kevin.
    I”m an enthusiastic subscriber. My husband, Andrew Elston, and I are moving to Portland from Seattle some time this summer. Hope to buy you a coffee!

  2. In the country of Bhutan, much of their governance is based on the concept of ‘Gross National Happiness’ (versus, say, the US’s idea of using GDP as a metric for decision making). Other countries, including the US have begun recognizing the value (and productivity) of happy people and have actually started studying this aspect of Bhutan’s culture as a model for possible imitation! It is truly an inspiration.

    1. Hi, Sally. Thanks for your comment. I agree with you. We as a nation are not measuring the right things to support our decision making and public policy. GDP and Wall Street are just a part of our national picture, and for many (most?) they are not a relevant metric. Go Bhutan!

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