The Time Value Paradox
This week I continue my foray into the book, "The Power of Fun: How to Feel Alive Again." There are so many interesting things in this book, but what struck me this week was what the author calls the Time Value Paradox. She begins by explaining how we came to understand the value of time. She explains:
"Prior to the industrial age, most people worked to complete specific tasks, bring in the harvest, stitch a quilt. When these tasks were complete, so was the days work...the advent of factory jobs caused a huge shift in the way paid laborers were compensated, earnings began to be determined not by their accomplishments, but by the time they spent at work. It was the difference, in other words, between a cobbler being paid to repair a shoe, a project that has a defined end point and a clear way to measure success, and a factory worker being compensated by the hour for performing tasks that theoretically could be repeated indefinitely. The latter creates financial incentives for people to keep working for as long as they can bear it, in order to earn more money."
The author then goes on to explain with all this stuff being made in factories it created the need for them to be sold (demand), which then sparked new industries in marketing and advertising. She says, "What’s one really effective way to do that [marketing]? You tell people that buying your stuff will make them happy and help them to have fun. This works even better if you can get them to compete with each other to see who can acquire more stuff." If buying stuff is what makes us happy then we need to work more, to earn more, to have these things, which can eat into personal time, or working too much, hence the saying "Time is money." I know I definitely bought into this, which is why when I had all the stuff (houses, cars, travel, cash), I couldn't figure out why I was so miserable.
The author goes on to say:
"Our conflation with having lots of money and material possessions, with having fun, incentivizes us to spend more of our time working so that we can earn more money to buy more things. This has the perverse effect of allowing work to invade our leisure time, which both makes us feel like we are never really taking a break and leaves us with less time to participate with experiences that might actually produce true fun. The resulting fun deficit contributes to our sense of emptiness and discontent." I would also attest that it leads to feelings of anxiety, stress, and overwhelm, very often because if we have bought into the idea that in order to be happy we must work to buy stuff, and we can never have enough stuff, then we must work all the time, and to what end? When do we get off the hamster wheel? When we retire? When we depart?
Sorry, that got a little heavy. This is a crude distillation of the history of American materialism and consumer culture, however, there is not a part of this that I do not know because I lived it. Sometimes I still find myself wanting more, but now I ask myself, "Why do I want that thing?" Not because I think I don't deserve it or I think it is bad to have material things, quite the contrary. I ask because most of the time when I ask myself why I want it I find that there isn't substance there, that my needs are met. Most importantly, I understand that by having the material possession it is not going to change how I feel about myself and how I experience this world. I like to think, "If I won the lottery tomorrow what would change in my life?" Likely I would have more material possessions, but will that actually change how I feel about myself and others, how I long for deep meaningful relationships with others (as we all do)? That is internal work that no money or circumstance can buy. That is the work that I do with my clients. If you want to derive purpose and meaning in your life and you want to finally crack the code to joy and True Fun, let's chat.
Erin "off the hamster wheel" Mac