The value of time and time choices. It’s Earth Day!
For two weeks, Bellingham has been awash in sun and warmth. Today though, the rain moved back in. Although I usually appreciate the dance between sun and rain, and the Pacific Northwest beauty created, this morning I was annoyed by the rain. I needed to travel a short distance from my home (not far, and not with others!), and usually I ride my bike. I didn’t want to spend the day in soggy clothes. As I stood next to the car key rack, feeling a little guilty because today is Earth Day, I did some mental math. If I drove, I would be dry and it would take me only about 3 minutes to get where I was going. If I biked, it would take me a couple minutes more, but I’d be soaked. If I walked, even with a raincoat, I could stay mostly dry, but it would cost me 20 minutes of time.
Fortunately, today, as most days in this stay-at-home era, I was not feeling time pressed. So I opted to walk. On the way out the door, I spied an umbrella – even better! I popped in my headphones and decided to listen to a TED talk that someone sent (to make better “use” of my time). My walk turned out to be lovely, with fresh leaves and flowers dripping with water and vitality. I started half-heartedly listening to the TED talk, wondering why I wasn’t just paying attention to the birds chatter. However, as the talk unfolded, my interest bloomed. The speaker was Dr. Elizabeth Dunn. She is a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia, where she carries out experimental research on “how time, money, and technology shape human happiness” (note ). In this talk, she told a tale of how our choices to give away our time, either to others or to doing good for the planet, can be affected by the value we place on our time. In addition, she explained many of the experiments that backed up her narrative. I love me some good data and science!
I’ve heard Dr. Dunn speak before. I’ve read her book, called “Happy Money,” where she describes how money may not buy happiness, but how we spend our money just might. It’s a really interesting read. In the book, one of the areas she identifies where spending can create lasting happiness is spending to buy time (AKA hiring a housecleaner), and spending to help others (AKA giving to others or causes).
In this talk, she lays out a case that as we value our time more highly (economically speaking), we tend to be less inclined to give it away. That gift of time could be through helping a friend or neighbor, volunteering, or in the environmental sense of walking vs. driving. Here is Dr. Dunn’s TED talk where she tells the story (it’s 12 minutes):
On this Earth Day, I am appreciating the natural world that I love and cherish – the water, clean air, sun, mountains, and trails that surround us and sustain me. But today’s Earth Day is unlike any other in the last 50 years. Today, we are at home, isolated from larger communities. Some of us are in pain from sickness or a lack of income. Others are feeling a sense of relief as our busy world, filled with expectations and social comparisons has quieted. Many are noticing an abundance of time.
I am thinking about the human impacts on this wider natural world, the non-human world. There are stories emerging that while the human world quiets, the non-human natural world is blossoming. People report seeing stars instead of smog, dolphins in the usually crowded waterways of Italy. I wonder if we will see a drop in atmospheric CO2 emissions. It is likely as economic activity and travel has slowed. Global carbon emissions are a complicated study. On one hand, I’ve read that 70% of global carbon emissions can be traced back to 100 companies (note  for source). On the other hand, those companies are typically making products for people. People’s choices drive demand, and companies create products to satisfy demand. Thus, our choices have an impact. As a financial planner, I advise people on how they invest their resources. Last Earth Day, I wrote a blogpost about investing and sustainability, you can read it at Sustainable investing – add some green values to your portfolio.
Investments, however, are just one part of our financial lives. Cash flows (how money is earned, saved and spent) is another side. I enjoy helping people raise their consciousness of their spending. I enjoy helping people embrace the question, “what spending makes you happier?”
Money, however, is just one item we must budget. Our time is another. As I think about my own time budget, and how a feeling of abundance has crept into my “stay-at-home” life, I am wondering how my value of time affects my decisions. This morning, I had enough time to walk my travel. As a result, I saved a bit of gas, I saved a little bit of Carbon from entering the atmosphere, I was able to experience my neighborhood more directly, AND I got to expand my mind. Often however, I feel as though my time is too valuable. This podcast got me thinking. It made me think of the lyrics to the “magic penny” song I used to sing as a kid:
Love is something if you give it away,
You end up having more.
It’s just like a magic penny,
Hold it tight and you won’t have any.
Lend it, spend it, and you’ll have so many
They’ll roll all over the floor.
 Source: Dr. Elizabeth Dunn’s website. https://dunn.psych.ubc.ca/
 Source: Climate Accountability Study: https://www.cdp.net/en/articles/media/new-report-shows-just-100-companies-are-source-of-over-70-of-emissions