Valuing time over money

School & University & Careers — a look into mimetic theory

Afterthoughts: The Moral Animal by Robert Wright

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Time, money, energy: the three fundamental resources available to us living in the modern world. Fig. 1 is a popular meme and powerful reminder of how their availability changes over time. In discussions of wealth, the conversation naturally focuses on money particularly in our working years. It makes total sense, aside from sleeping, we manoeuvre and, if need be, upend our lives around the demands of our careers. This could be in the form of working a few extra hours to make a good impression. Many move to a different city or country for their job. It is important to make sure we have enough money, but it is easy to go overboard and neglect the other two resources we have.

Fig 1. Meme of how Time, Money, and Energy varies with Age

What does the science say?

There is an association between a focus on time over money with higher levels of happiness and fulfilment. Hershfield et. al (2016) found that while most consciously choose money over time. Those who chose time over money associates with higher levels of happiness. The effect held even when controlling for the available time and money.

Whillians et. al (2016) found this association to remain true across six studies looking at the relationship’s effect on happiness. Among the studies, they looked at students, adults in the community, and representative sample of employed Americans. The sample is large and diverse. The preference of time over money is, therefore, reliably associated with increased levels of happiness.

Mogilner (2010) provides evidence that thinking about time and money changes the way we pursue our own personal happiness. She found that thinking of time encourages us to socialise more with family and friends. Therefore, they spend less time working. Conversely, the opposite was true when was the main object of our thoughts. People would spend more time working and less time socialising. Crucially, the former is associated with higher levels of happiness whereas the latter is not.

What can we do with this?

What does all this prove? We are all victims of our own self-deception. The argument of prioritising time over money is an adage as old as civilisation. We probably all know the benefits of choosing time. It is, however, a difficult thing to reconcile. The first, and most difficult, step is to break out of the bubbles we are in. In human history, there have been 110 billion people to have ever lived; that means there are 110 billion ways of living. We don’t have to seek out all of them to gain some perspective, just ones that we wouldn’t otherwise find if we continue living the way we are. Actively doing so will contribute towards undoing this self-sabotage of valuing money over time.


Whillans et al. (2016). Valuing time over money is associated with greater happiness. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 7(3), 213-222

Moligner (2010). The pursuit of happiness: Time, money, and social connection. Psychological Science, Psychological Science 21(9) 1348–1354)]

Hershfield et al. (2016). People who choose time over money are happier. Social Psychological and Personality Science,7(7), 697-706.

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