The Three Types of Wealth.

Wealth is a universal aspiration. But wealth, narrowly defined as material riches and financial abundance, provides only a limited path to fulfillment. When wealth is seen merely as assets, account balances, and extravagant luxuries, we risk compromising our most precious resources – time and health. This shallow conception of wealth plagues much of society. We fixate on money and possessions while losing sight of how wealth interacts with and impacts our total well-being.

True wealth is multidimensional, consisting of time, health, and money intricately interconnected. In isolation, none offers lasting fulfilment. Optimal living requires moderating and balancing our pursuit of these forms of wealth. Yet the temptation remains to optimise single-mindedly, relying on money to purchase time and restore health. This tendency toward extreme trade-offs comes with hidden costs.

This essay will explore the complex relationship between time, health, and money in constructing a life well-lived. I will argue that properly balancing these critical forms of wealth is central to fulfillment. Though each holds value, none should be pursued as an end in itself without considering its impact on the whole. By broadening our conception of wealth and integrating these elements, we can ultimately lead more meaningful, empowered, and purpose-driven lives.

Let’s start with some definitions.

Time: The duration of our lives and the number of seconds, minutes, hours, days, etc. that each of us is given on earth. Our allotment of time is finite and irreplaceable. We don’t know how long we’ve got left, but we know it’s limited. This uncertainty adds to the preciousness and scarcity of time. Our time will inevitably expire—this is one of life’s cruelties.

Money: Financial and material assets, including income, savings, investments, and possessions. Money acts as a medium of exchange for acquiring goods, services, and experiences.

Health: The overall physical, mental, and social wellbeing that enables us to fully function and engage in activities that bring purpose and joy. Our health determines greatly determines our quality of life.

Of course, these concepts are highly intertwined, and this is showcased in sayings such as “time is money”. We have to find the right balance for ourselves between these.

When you’re young, you have time. You have health, but you have no money. When you’re middle-aged, you have money and you have health, but you have no time. When you’re old, you have money and you have time, but you have no health. So the trifecta is trying to get all three at once. By the time people realize they have enough money, they’ve lost their time and their health.

Eric Jorgenson

You might think that optimising for any of these types of wealth individually should be a good thing. After all, who wouldn’t want more money, or perhaps more time, or better health?

Well, the problem is that everything has a cost! You have to drive a type of Faustian bargain to highly optimise for anything in life.

Let’s take a look at some concrete examples. A lot of people dream of early retirement. They think that once they have no more responsibility, no more work, no more challenges, that this is when they will finally be able to rest and be happy.

But unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you. If you’re a nervous wreck at work or at home, you’ll be a nervous wreck on a beach in the Dominican Republic smoking a cigar with a mojito on your hand. An excess of unstructured free time leads to aimlessness, apathy, depression. We need goals, responsibilities, and challenges to engage us.

Taking on meaningful responsibilities provides our lives with structure and meaning, which are important for fulfilment.

This gives our time purpose — regardless of how much we have.

And this means building some level of discipline, and how do we do that?

We do that by becoming the master of our time, not its servant. This means carefully scheduling our days, deciding what to focus on, when to rest, when to engage, when to challenge ourselves. Prioritizing our time, making meaningful choices about what to do and not to do, is crucial in exerting control over our lives.

This doesn’t mean we have to become slaves to our calendars or schedules. It just means we have to think, if I had to have the best possible day today, what would that look like? What would I do?

And then — try to do that! You’ll fail, of course, because you’re hopeless but perhaps you’ll achieve half of what you set out to do, and that is already a lot better than all those who just sleep walk through life.

And like a muscle, if you exercise this discipline, you’ll start to eventually be able to do 51% of what you wanted to do, and then a little bit more, and so on.

Building discipline comes from creating habits that align with our goals and values. It begins with understanding your own priorities and knowing what it is you want from life. Once these are defined, we can start implementing habits that help us achieve those goals.

This is akin to cleaning your room. When your surroundings are in disarray, it reflects the chaos inside you. Start small. Make your bed each day. Organize your desk. Keep your living space clean. With every little action, you instil a sense of order, a routine that helps in cultivating discipline. It isn’t just about the act itself, but about forming patterns of behaviour that lead to larger accomplishments over time.

Now, let’s consider health. Some people believe that if they have enough money, they can solve all their health problems. But the reality is, you can’t simply buy good health. It’s something that requires a consistent commitment to healthy habits—proper diet, regular exercise, adequate sleep, mental well-being.

Moreover, good health isn’t just about living a long life, it’s about living a good, meaningful life. It’s about having the energy and mental clarity to pursue your passions, maintain relationships, and contribute positively to the world. Good health amplifies the quality of our time and the efficacy of our money. It enhances our ability to interact with the world and derive satisfaction from our pursuits.

Striking the right balance with health is critical. While good health provides the foundation for an active, engaged life, we must be wary of becoming overzealous. When taken to an extreme, an excessive preoccupation with health turns into its own form of unhealthy disorder. Fanatically counting calories, over-exercising, and avoiding even modest indulgences can drain life of pleasure, variety, and spontaneity. Some deprivation today may extend our time in the future, but we must weigh present costs versus future gains. Just as money should enable experiences, good health should enable us to occasionally enjoy life’s pleasures without guilt. Total abstinence is rarely sustainable, and the attendant anxiety and deprivation often undercut the benefits. Moderation and flexibility should govern our pursuit of health, just as with money and time.

A motto that I like:

Moderation, in moderation.

The intense pursuit of money, like any extreme endeavor, often comes at a high cost. In our quest to amass financial wealth, we can unwittingly sacrifice the wealth of time and health. We may find ourselves in a vicious cycle of endless work hours, chronic stress, little rest, and scant time for our personal lives. We, then, forsake the opportunity for enriching experiences and nurturing relationships. Our health deteriorates under the relentless pressure, both physically due to lack of sleep and poor diet, and mentally due to overwhelming stress and anxiety. Money, in this context, becomes a double-edged sword; it promises comfort and security, but simultaneously erodes the very foundations of our well-being.

Moreover, the immediate gratification that comes with financial affluence can diminish the joy of anticipation. If we can instantly purchase any desired object or experience, we forfeit the sweet suspense of yearning, the anticipation that typically leads to dopamine release in our brains, intensifying the eventual satisfaction of our desires. When everything is immediately attainable, we can become desensitized to pleasure, leaving us perpetually unsatisfied and perpetually seeking the next thing. We risk becoming the proverbial hamster on a wheel, constantly running but never truly arriving at a sense of satisfaction or happiness.

The impact of considerable wealth can also extend to our social relations. Our interactions may become tainted by a nagging suspicion that others are more interested in our financial status than in us as individuals. Genuine relationships may be replaced by ones based on transactional benefits or status acquisition. It can create a climate of mistrust, isolating us from authentic social connections. This can lead to loneliness and a sense of disconnection, even amidst ostensible social success.

Additionally, a relentless focus on wealth accumulation can blind us to the value of non-monetary aspects of life. The joy of simple pleasures, the satisfaction of a job well done, the fulfilment that comes from helping others, the growth that comes from surmounting challenges, all can be overshadowed by the never-ending chase for more wealth. This unbalanced focus can result in a hollow existence, devoid of the richness that comes from a more holistic and balanced approach to life.

While money is an important tool for leading a comfortable life, overoptimising on it can lead to a host of unintended consequences. A balanced approach to wealth, one that acknowledges and values the interconnectedness of time, health, and money, can provide a more holistic path to personal fulfilment and well-being. This would entail not just acquiring wealth, but learning to use it in ways that align with our deepest values and enhance our overall quality of life.

So it is counterintuitive, we would obviously prefer more time, health, and money compared to less, as these are generally seen as good things. However, the key to real happiness and fulfilment isn’t found in the extreme accumulation of any one of these resources, but in their balanced interaction.

Aiming for absolutes often leads us to neglect the interconnectedness of these forms of wealth. When we tunnel-vision on accumulating wealth at the expense of our health and personal time, the value of money can quickly diminish. In the same vein, if we overly fixate on maintaining health to the point where we avoid all risks or shirk responsibilities, we miss out on life’s adventures and lessons. Or if we solely chase time, attempting to extend our lives without giving them substance or meaning, we may find ourselves living hollow, directionless lives.

What we need to strive for is not an absolute, but a dynamic equilibrium between time, health, and money. This requires understanding the trade-offs involved and making informed decisions that reflect our individual priorities and values. It requires flexibility and adjustment as circumstances and goals change throughout our life.

Remember, the ultimate goal is not merely to extend our time on Earth, to amass a fortune, or to achieve perfect health. Rather, it’s to live a meaningful, fulfilling life. Time, health, and money are just resources that can help us achieve this, each important, but none sufficient in itself. By seeking balance, we can avoid the pitfalls of overoptimisation and find a path to a rich, well-lived life.

Related Essays