Tag Archives: Time

Why Time Isn’t Money

time-money-see-sawWe often tend to use the same language for time as we use for money. We “spend” it. We “save” it. We “buy” it. We use those same words because both time and money are very precious resources to us.

But while money is always money (the same 20 dollars can used to buy food, movies, or in my case, a new book), time is a little more nuanced.

In fact, the Greeks had two different words for time: chronos and kairos. Chronos was the quantitative sense of time. It could be measured and dissected, and most importantly, was undifferentiated.

Kairos, in contrast, was the qualitative sense of time. It was psychological, how we felt time, and it reminded us that not every moment was exactly the same — some moments were more powerful, more important and more holy than others.

To phrase it another way, if chronos is the date of your wedding, kairos is your wedding day.

So time is paradoxical. Sometimes we look at it through our daily or weekly schedules, placing all our obligations and opportunities into our calendar. When we look at time in this way, it is something we use, and has value only to the extent that it can help us achieve other goals. But sometimes we look at time through the lens of what is most special and important in our lives. When we look at it in this way, it is something we experience, and has value in and of itself.

Our view of money, however, doesn’t have this challenge. Money doesn’t have value in and of itself — its power comes in what it allows us to do. The question then is, are we using our money to help us do what we truly want to be doing?

Happy MoneyIn the new book Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton outline the different ways we can use money to increase our well-being. While money doesn’t buy happiness (at least not directly), if we use our money correctly, we can find opportunities for more joy and satisfaction in life. And one of the primary ways we can do that is to use money to buy time — but it has to be a specific type of time.

We all are busy with our lives, and we often think that buying a new time-saving gadget will make our lives better because it will “save us time.” Instead, these new gadgets often force us to do more work in the same amount of time. But that’s because when we are looking to “be more efficient,” we are looking for more chronos time.

What Dunn and Norton argue is that we should use our money to find ways to experience kairos time. So, for example, how can we make sure that we have a date night with our spouse? How can we strive to volunteer with organizations that give our lives meaning? As Dunn and Norton explain:

Transforming decisions about money into decisions about time has a surprising benefit. Thinking about time — rather than money — spurs people to engage in activities that promote well-being, like socializing and volunteering. In a 2010 study, more than three hundred adults completed a simple task designed to activate the concept of either time or money. One group unscrambled sentences related to time, such as “sheets the change clock” (possible answers: “change the sheets” or “change the clock”). Another group unscrambled sentences related to money (“sheets the change price”). Afterwards, everyone decided how to spend the next twenty-four hours. Individuals who unscrambled sentences related to time were more inclined to socialize and engage in “intimate relations” and were less inclined to work. Those who unscrambled sentences related to money showed just the opposite pattern, reporting enhanced intentions to work and diminished intentions to socialize or have intimate relations.

Why? Time and money promote different mind-sets. We view our choices about how to spend time as being deeply connected to our sense of self. In contrast, choices about money often lead us to think in a relatively cold, rational manner. Focusing on time frees people to prioritize happiness and social relationships. Even a simple sentence-unscrambling task is enough to induce these different frames of mind. (Dunn and Norton, 74-75)

In Judaism, the paradigmatic kairos time is Shabbat. During the six days of the work week, we are supposed to be productive, to be working hard in order to support ourselves and our family. But on Shabbat, we are told to take a break. To rest. To be with friends. To be with family. To go for a nice, long walk. To read and to learn. To pray. To be reminded that time can be special.

Indeed, while every dollar we earn is the same, not every moment in life is the same. And while we can always potentially gain more money, we never gain more time. While you can always potentially get a refund on your money, once your time is spent, it’s gone.

So let’s make sure we’re spending it wisely.

1 Comment

Filed under General

Our Deeply-Rooted Need to Mark Time

A three-hour drive into rural Guatemala leads you to Tikal, the largest excavated pre-Colombian site in the Americas. It was a center for the Mayan civilization 1200 years ago, so as a lover of history, Tikal was a place I had to go during my honeymoon. And as we hiked through the jungle, the guide explained to us how the Mayan calendar was based on a 20-year cycle, and then he led us through the multiple sets of twin pyramids that the Mayans had built in order to mark the end of one cycle and begin another.

As I stood among ruins that belonged to a culture so different from my own, I was struck by just how deeply-rooted our need to mark time is. From the 10th anniversary of 9/11, to the beginning of the Jewish year of 5772, to the ways we observe birthdays and anniversaries, there are some moments that simply seem to call for ritualized recognition.

Indeed, in every culture, there are certain times that need to be “set apart” from others. We generally call them “holidays,” because the word “holiday” literally means “holy day” — in Judaism, in fact, the word “holy,” kadosh, truly means “separate” or “set apart.” And that’s a major reason why peoples as diverse as the ancient Mayans and the ancient Israelites sought to create accurate calendars — since some times were more significant than others and needed to be recognized, it was essential to know precisely when those special times were to occur.

But it’s important to remember that the way we measure time is often very different from the way we experience it.

We tend to measure time using physical phenomena. Originally, we used astronomical rhythms like the earth going around the sun or the earth rotating on its axis. Today, with a scientific need for more precision, we use the cesium-133 atom to define a “second,” and then base other units off of that.

In contrast, we tend to experience time psychologically — and that experience is often not in sync with physical realities. We all have had those days when we’ve thought, “Wow — it’s 4pm already?” or have gone, “Ugh — it’s only 11 am?” We’ve had moments when we’ve wished for an extra few days to prepare for that test or presentation. And just ask any 6-year-old if they can wait for their birthday!

So as Philip Zimbardo explains in his book The Time Paradox, “A fundamental difference between physical laws and psychological laws is that physical laws are unchanging, but psychological principles are elastic: They bend and change according to the situation and frame of reference.” (Zimbardo, 13) And that disconnect is especially apparent when it comes to significant moments.

Indeed, when significant moments arise, we often intentionally change our frame of reference, seeking to make them last as long as possible — we build up to them, fully immerse ourselves in them, and repeatedly talk about them afterwards. It’s the same whether we’re talking about days of memory like September 11th, religious holidays like Passover or Christmas, or our own personal life-cycle events like a wedding — none of these pass by without significant anticipation, a deep emotional experience, and a lasting imprint.

As Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman explains: “Matters of the heart and spirit…cannot be squeezed into a convenient time-slot and then quickly put on hold…otherwise, we rob ourselves of the full depth of these events that mark time’s passing.” (Israel: A Spiritual Travel Guide, 49)

That’s why one of the first prayers we will say in the year 5772 will be the prayer that is said at every holiday, as well as at every joyous life-cycle moment — the Shehecheyanu. It’s a prayer that is designed to remind us to “set apart” this particular day, and it ends by thanking God for “giving us life, for sustaining us, and for enabling us to reach this moment.”

The Hebrew word for “moment” in this prayer is z’man, which has a particular connotation to it. As professor of linguistics Dr. Joel Hoffman explains, z’man is used to describe “the time of the year when something of note happens or has happened.”

So z’man, in other words, is when physical and psychological time intersect. When the calendar tells us that it is time to return to this sacred time, we are also reminded that we have to fully engage ourselves in it.

Indeed, at a recent interdisciplinary conference run by Discover Magazine and the Foundational Questions Institute, one of the participants noted that “[f]rom a…psychological perspective, the time measured by atomic clocks isn’t as important as the time measured by our internal rhythms and the accumulation of memories.”

After all, while the calendar can remind us when sacred moments happen, we are the ones who have the power to truly make them significant.


Filed under General