Bottling Time

Why do we often spend our money more wisely than our time? Perhaps it’s because we cannot save time; it passes whether we choose to spend it or not. Or perhaps it’s because spending time can be intangible.

In contrast, financial transactions involve deliberate action with material objects. For instance, you pay for your new alarm clock with a twenty-dollar bill and, in return, gain a material possession. But spending time seems less costly, and it is less closely associated with fungible assets. You can’t bottle time and exchange it for an object or event.

-Pages 9-10; Thinking, Fast and Slow

“You can’t bottle time and exchange it for an object or event,” –exactly.

There are two prevalent norms that dominate our lives: market norms and social norms.* It’s interesting to think about, but unlike money, time bleeds from one paradigm to the next almost seamlessly.

“Spend your time” is a popular phrase that is often tossed around; the language behind this phrase depicts time’ in terms of monetary transactions. But how can that be? How can I ‘spend time’ when it isn’t a tangible asset?

We can’t- and yet we all do. {Paradox Alert >> I’m spending time writing this article (and that is meta)}. So maybe the issue isn’t with the concept itself, but with the language that we are using to describe the expenditure of an intangible asset.

Imagine if people said: spend your feelings wisely-  or I don’t have enough emotions (side note: sometimes I do wonder this about certain individuals…)– sounds odd doesn’t it– and not just grammatically but philosophically too, right? So then why doesn’t this apply to the idea of ‘time’?

Time, like emotions and feelings, is an intangible asset; yet by talking about time in terms of market norm mentality we encourage the notion of ‘time’ to be treated like a commodity; commodities can be bought, sold, exchanged, returned- but time isn’t like that. Maybe, if we change the language that we use to talk about how we are engaging with time, we can begin to appreciate its beauty… rather than being paralyzed by the fear of time running out.


My inspiration to synthesize this piece came from Daniel Kahneman’s: Thinking, Fast and Slow and Mitch Albom’s quote on Timekeeping.

*Quote from Dan Ariely’s book Predictably Irrational

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