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It's all about the spending

Are our friends really less important than our phones?
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We can't afford not to spend the time

We got the call that a favorite cousin passed away. I know, we shouldn’t have favorites, but that's just what she was. Everybody's favorite.

The funeral was several hours drive from here. We couldn't possibly go. We wanted to, but how could we? We have to go, we said. We can’t, we decided. There's too much going on. But it's Sheila. How can we not go? But we don't have the time. Back and forth, back and forth.

We went, and are so glad we did. We found ourselves smiling and laughing in spite of the sorrow as we connected with others.

Prior to 2020 there was a noted increase in the number of people declining invitations to events or not showing up after indicating they would. It seemed to suggest we weren’t making getting together with family and friends a priority.

Enter 2020. Events we looked forward to and people we wanted to see were no longer a possibility. Emerging from that we were resolute in not taking each other for granted. We realized what we were missing and made promises to chart a different course.

But now we are told a new obstacle has emerged in the form of economic pressures that are causing people to say no to getting together. The financial crunch is such that paying the day-to-day bills is already tough enough and many simply can't afford the costs associated with invitations they are receiving.

There's no question some big events carry a higher price tag that could include expenses such as gifts, travel or hotels. Certainly, these invites have to be declined if there simply aren't the dollars to finance it. But something else is going on as well. It has less to do with money for the big events and more to do with time for the smaller ones.

We have currency at our disposal; currency that comes in different forms. Money is one, but there are others too, important ones like…time. Unlike money, which we have in differing amounts, we all work with the same budget—24 hours each day. So how are we spending it?

Studies of the use of time around the world found some interesting trends. South Koreans sleep less than others, people in China and Mexico spend more hours on paid work, and the French spend more time eating than the English.

The hours spent at work are the biggest chunk of time for those in paid employment. Fully 89% are spending 8.5 hours on the job each day, adding another 5 hours on weekends. Then there are the hours spent sleeping (or trying to) which averages eight hours and 33 minutes.

We spend 28 minutes on educational activities, 18 minutes doing housework, 11 minutes on laundry, 14 minutes on home repairs, 10 minutes reading, 45 minutes on shopping and paying bills, and 34 minutes preparing and cleaning up meals.

The minutes that are left are filled with variations on grooming, volunteering, caring for children, exercise, gaming or watching TV. But the number that really jumped out at me was this: the average person spends 3 hours and 15 minutes per day on their phones. That is quite a chunk of time. Contrast that with the 38 minutes spent with…friends.

It can be argued that some of our time on phones is, in fact, connecting with friends. That’s true. But then consider the survey question that resulted in this conclusion: a majority of people are more concerned about losing their phone than they are about losing a friend.

My husband and I were invited to breakfast with good friends. As we enjoyed our morning, we were shocked to discover we had been talking for four hours. Did any of us have time for that? No. We would have changed it? No. It was time well spent.

In a fragmented and potentially isolating world, we should be increasing time spent with others, not avoiding it, or declining invitations. Time is a unique commodity. What makes it better than money is that we can be truly generous with it and we end up the richer for it. Friendship boosts happiness, reduces stress, and helps us cope with difficulties we encounter in life. Embracing a phone is of little comfort. Hugging a friend can change a day.

We would be well served to reconsider how we are spending our time, not just our money. If more were to do that, we can correct the equation and demonstrate that from now on the friendships we build will be more important than the gadgets we buy. Time will tell. That's my outlook.


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