In life, there are things where if you have enough of, you can do virtually anything with. This is what I personally consider a currency. We all know that billionaires have more access to goods and services that we don’t, but money is only one type of currency. I personally think there three currencies in life, money only being one of them.
Attention is the ability to focus, and be present in the moment. Attention can be incredibly rare, and is even rarer so now that technology constantly competes for our attention. Attention is also vital for achieving the “flow” state, deep work, and ultimately, happiness.
Attention is hard to measure quantitatively, but it’s also the most important currency because it plays a direct part in our happiness. Your health is a primary input that decides how effective your attention is.
We’re all at least a little bit aware that time is valuable. Having more time allows you the freedom to do more things that you otherwise would be too busy for. Someone with enough time can become a master at any number of skills, and a vital affliction of college students that they do not have enough time to get their work done (although I personally disagree with this statement).
A sense of having enough free time is important for the sense of autonomy, and autonomy is also a vital component of happiness. In this sense, having enough time is also important for long-term happiness.
Money doesn’t require much explanation as a currency. We all realize the goods and services that can be bought with money to some extent. In this case, I will not bother to explain money as a currency, just because it’s a well-acknowledged one.
In terms of money and happiness, having enough money to be able to pay the bills is important to escape the stress of poverty. Past studies have shown that happiness peaks at around 70k per year. However, an over-obsession with money can also lead to decreased happiness. A constant need to earn more money leads to a hedonic treadmill effect that saps long-term happiness. It is important to note that money is not a goal, but a tool.
My personal ranking for these three currencies goes attention > time > money. It is important and useful to have all three of these currencies, but having a tight focus and being present in the moment dominates having an excess of time, and having an excess of time and the freedom to perform actions within those time is more important than money, as time is more scarce than money.
It’s also very possible to trade between currencies. Typically, you’d want to trade up the chain, but trading down is both common, and sometimes necessary:
(TODO: turn examples into a graphic in future)
Trading attention for time: an increased focus on your workload to finish it faster, leaving you with extra time
Trading attention for money: focus on learning marketable skills to gain more money in the future (or high-frequency trading from a more purist perspective)
Trading time for attention: getting more sleep in order to be well-rested and more alert
Trading time for money: employee/wage jobs
Trading money for attention: paying an assistant to take care of administrative tasks, so you can focus on your work
Trading money for time: paying someone to clean your house for you, to save time
From this perspective, we can see why rich people are more willing to hire maids and secretaries. Those who have less experience with high-level jobs usually consider such services to be a “waste of money”. However, it makes sense to those who value their attention and time more than money.