The most obvious approach there is to the conservation issue I posed last week is: Start valuing time over money. To me, the value of time over money is a no-brainer. I wish I could say I thought it up all on my own, but I never think anything up all on my own. Because I have an abundance of time, I read abundantly. I’ve also traveled a bit, but you don’t have to travel far to see that generally speaking Americans seem less happy than they should considering our relative prosperity.
To satisfy our natural drive for abundance, we have become addicted to consumption in this country, and it’s killing our bodies and our environment. People who love their work or lead more complete lives don’t seem to have the same need to fill the voids in their lives with food and things. When you value time over money, the way you fill your time changes dramatically for the better.
When I made a conscious decision to stop working so hard at work I didn’t value, something incredible, but expected, happened – "treating myself," which invariably came in the form of buying something, felt completely unnecessary. Suddenly I realized it is the time itself that is the treat. I don’t need to consciously and painstakingly “conserve,” because with the surplus time I no longer need the quick shopping fix or fancy night out to feel rewarded. To quote again from MOTHER EARTH NEWS and GRIT Publisher Bryan Welch's article about creating a sustainable society I mentioned last time, “If we are to lead creative, innovative and beautiful lives, we need some surplus time and energy.” Most Americans are just too damn tired to lead such lives!
Americans typically don’t like their work, but more than any other culture I’ve seen, we define ourselves through our work. “What do you do?” is among the first questions asked in a conversation among Americans. I’ve spent long and pleasant evenings with new acquaintances in other countries where that question is never asked, by anyone, unless there’s another American there. Why? We are our work. Being over-worked is a badge of achievement in this country. Why are we so willing to “trade our hours for a handful of dimes” sang Jim Morrison like 40 years ago, but we are still doing it today, and no better off for it.
Maybe it’s not the same for everyone, but an entire afternoon with no obligations at all makes me feel like an aristocrat. I know it requires a different look at what defines luxury, one that marketers avoid for the simple reason that it doesn’t sell anything. Money to burn might feel equally good, I wouldn’t know, but I’m very certain the path to making that money is totally over-rated.