The illusion of money

Author: Michelle Hawkins

Illusion of money

“The true currency of life is time, not money, and we’ve all got a limited stock of that”

Robert Harris

Let’s bust a myth upfront. Money is not wealth.

Money is really only pieces of metal, paper and plastic. It is valuable because we believe it is not because it has any inherent value. Currencies are just something humans agreed on to have virtual value.

I’m not saying that currencies are worthless because, in our current society and the way it is designed, we need money to survive. We need to trade it in for real goods and we can save and invest what we don’t use. So money is both imaginary and key to our contemporary existence.

We’re suffering from ‘affluenza’

We’ve been under the illusion that hard work leads to happiness and that consuming stuff is the way to a better life. We’ve been working hard to buy things we don’t actually need in the hope that it’ll make us happy. 

This focus on money is just a symptom of a society that suffers from what Oliver James calls an epidemic of affluenza.  He argues that “obsessive, envious, ‘keeping up with the Joneses” has led to millions of people experiencing an increase in anxiety and depression. Our obsession with money is making us sick.

The true currency of life

Imagine for a minute that time is our ultimate currency and that we all use Time Banks. These operate very differently from money banks but instead of making us sick, they help us to live fulfilled lives which are full of meaning and purpose.

In Time Banks:

  • We all get 24 hours (86,4000 seconds) deposited in our personal account each day.
  • Unlike money which widens inequalities, with time, we are ALL equal. In contrast, there is a hierarchy in money. Some currencies are worth more and how much we own places us in a social class system.
  • We never carry over a balance from day-to-day so it’s about spending and not accumulating.
  • We cannot save a single second but we can invest it wisely. However, if we fail to invest our time for a good purpose, it will be written off as a loss every evening when we go to sleep.
  • We never know when it will stop being debited

How to spend it wisely

There are many ways in which to spend you time wisely, but here are my three top tips. 

Tip One: Draw out every penny every day and live in the present. You cannot draw against tomorrow’s deposits. I work in the field of ageing well and I always get asked the secret to living longer. The real secret to living longer isn’t going to add years to your life but it will add life to your years; it’s about living consciously in the moment because this makes time go slower. Remember being young and how slow time passed – how long a day at the beach was? As the philosopher Heraclitus so eloquently said: “time is a game played beautifully by children”. Let’s be children again and put our watches in the drawer. 

It is also a great investment because research shows that living in the moment improves your memory and ability to focus. This is your pension in later life.

Tip 2: Accept your mortality and then ask yourself, what really matters? We don’t talk enough about death and dying but to live fully and spend our time wisely, we need to accept our mortality. I’m sure you’ve all heard about the top regrets of the dying? by Australian nurse Bronnie Ware? I’ve had may fair share of facing into death and being with others as they die and have this printed on the wall of my office.

    1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
    2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
    3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
    4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
    5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

 These are all funds in which you can invest your time. Your dividend is not denominated in pounds but in meaning, compassion, purpose and fulfilment. This is what makes me rich and helps us all to die with a peaceful soul.

Tip 3: Take back 30 minutes of your “leisure” screen time every day. n 2019, The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) completed a two-year study of over 32,000 people to find out how much free time people really have each day. Working in the labour market, formal education, home work (taking care of kids, cooking etc), and self-care (eating, sleeping etc.) were not considered free time. These are things you have to do. Free time involves things you don’t have to do, no matter how fun, fulfilling, or “essential” they may feel. E.g. socialising, sport, travel, education for personal interest

They found that, on average, we have 5 hours of free time every day. No surprise that women have less (40 mins!). 

What do we do with this free time? The average person spends over 3 hours engaging with some sort of screen for leisure and not work* So we can start by making a clear distinction between screen time for leisure and work.

Now, take back 30 minutes of your “leisure” screen time every day.  This doesn’t sound like much but, over the course of the week, its 3.5 hours. Over the course of a year, it’s 182 hours which adds up to well over four 40-hour weeks or a month of your life back every year to spend on something that truly matters.  And, all this without having to spend a penny, take leave, a sabbatical or sacrificing anything important in either your personal or professional life.

 “Get a month back of you life every year without having to spend a penny”

Parting thoughts 

Death and time are the great equalizers. It doesn’t matter how rich or successful you are–everyone will die and we all get 168 hours each week. As Carl Sandburg once said so eloquently:

“Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent..” 

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