The Currency of Life

It is said that time is money.  It is not. Money is the currency of commerce. Time is the currency of life. You can substantially raise your lifetime achievement and happiness returns by positively balancing your time and life portfolio in these three simple ways.

(Average reading time 180 seconds)

You invest time, the currency of your life, in three ways: earning money; accumulating things; or gathering experiences. Here’s why those distinctions are important and how to capitalize the most from investing in each.

Investing Your Time In Earning Money

Your time spent in earning and accumulating money, the currency of commerce, produces a high return on your initial investment.   Growing your income not only provides you with the necessities of life, it allows you to save for the stormy days and a brighter future.   Extensive studies have shown within almost every country in the world, rich people are happier than poor people and the populations in rich countries are happier than poor countries.  Earning money also generates pride in yourself, a sense of accomplishment, security, control and over all well-being.

So initially investing your time in covering the economic basics, reducing or eliminating debt, honing your skills to produce an income stream and limiting expenditures until you create a financial safety net add greatly to your life achievement and enjoyment.

But a well-respected Princeton University study shows that after households reached a $75,000 annual income, an increase in earnings on average did not produce a rise in happiness.  Although overall life satisfaction remained positive with higher income, the level of ongoing, moment-to-moment joy, love, affection, tranquility and other positive emotions experienced did not correlate with increasing income above that point.

So past that pay level as well as along the way to it, what are the other key time investments that can produce an even greater ongoing life return?

Investing Your Time In Accumulating Things

As you earn and acquire money you then invest time in deciding what things to buy with it.  Whether it is the minutes to pick what you will purchase for dinner or the pair of shoes you will buy, the days to decide the details of the car you will acquire, or the weeks of hunting for the apartment or house you will move to, you devote a lot of time to deciding what things you will acquire. Beyond providing for our basics needs we all do this because we think more, better and bigger things will make us happier.

However a decade of research shows that is not the norm.  We certainly get a temporary lift from buying something new.  But due to what psychologists refer to as hedonic adaptation we acclimate to our material purchases and for most of us we are soon taking our latest toys and glitz, even our new car and bigger residence for granted.  We become desensitized to them.  They lose their luster and we start spending our time thinking about what things we can accumulate next.

So is there something we can invest our time in that is proven to produce more lasting and meaningful joy in our lives than just acquiring things? There is.

Investing Your Time In Experiences

Multiple studies over the last decade have clearly shown that life experiences give us more lasting joy and pleasure than most material things.  Yet almost all of us invest more of our time, and more of our money in acquiring things.  Our rationale is that if I buy this I’ll get to keep it, whereas the experience will be over.  This expectation is contradicted by research published in the Journal of Positive Psychology showing that a month later experiences are rated higher than things purchased, scoring almost twice as high as people anticipated.

This is because experiences tend to satisfy more of our essential psychological needs, forming a bigger part of our sense of self.  We tend to get more pleasure from anticipating experiences than material things.  That pleasure is then extended over a lifetime as we recall and retell our experiences to others, increasing our sense of connection to the people in our life and the world at large.   Test this by taking 30 seconds now to think about three or four of your most memorable life pleasures.

My guess is that you were positively reminiscing more on experiences than on things.   So why not upgrade your time portfolio in this New Year with more such positive experiences?  Go on that adventurous trip you’ve been pondering. Have a big birthday party. Take some fun weekend trips exploring your state or region.  Enroll in those art classes you’ve been putting off.  Go on that camping trip with your son or daughter, build a fire and roast some hot dogs and marshmallows.

You do not have to spend a lot of money to have great experiences, but you do have to invest your time.  Some of my best childhood memories are fishing trips that my father would let me go on with the group of salesmen he managed.  Six to eight of us would pile in a station wagon, drive five hours to the ocean and share rooms in a cheap motel.  We would fish most of the night and the next day off a bridge and then drive home. Divided up each person didn’t spend much money but the investment of time in those weekends paid off in a lifetime of happy memories.  I still go back to that same bridge to fish 50 years later.

Don’t postpone investing in more experiences until tomorrow.  Make it a daily habit in small ways starting today.  Redirect some of your currency of life…your time, from buying things to consciously experiencing the people and nature and happenings around you.  When you do buy, try spending small amounts of money on many little, temporary pleasures rather than less often on bigger ones.  Such small positive experiences compound to make for a big return in life.  Remember when strangers come from afar to where you live, it is an adventurous experience for them.  So it will be for you every day when you increase your investment of time and money in experiences.




“Let us then suppose the mind to be, as we say, a white paper, void of all characters, without any ideas. How comes it to be furnished? … To this I answer, in one word, from experiences.”

“Our incomes are like our shoes; if too small, they gall and pinch us; but if too large, they cause us to stumble and to trip.”

John Locke (1632 –1704) was an English philosopher and physician.


Buy Things That Improve Experiences

Boost your happiness return on purchases by buying things that increase the quality of your ongoing experiences.  Certain board games can appeal to the whole family or friends in ways that create positive memories and repeat engagements. Extending a kitchen bar top to seat two more people can result in more together time with family and friends while the cooking is done. If affordable a water craft or recreational vehicle might increase unique together experiences.  Think before you spend – will this purchase quickly be set aside or will it facilitate meaningful ongoing experiences?