Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Means to Enjoy

A friend was telling me about a study done with teenagers in which they were asked, “If you could have anything you want, what would it be?” Most of them answered, possibly predictably, “money.” A handful answered, “Having more time with family and friends.” Then they were asked, “What do you most enjoy doing?” Most answered, “Spending time with friends and family.” A handful answered, “Shopping.”

So, a small number of these teenagers demonstrated some consistency: what they wanted more of was also what they most enjoyed: spending time with friends and family, or more money to go shopping. But most of them showed a common, but profound, inconsistency. What they most want doesn’t correlate to what they most enjoy. I think many of us would have the same answers as those surveyed. And, to be sure, it may not be as inconsistent as it appears: with more money we could spend more time with friends and family; with universal health insurance we wouldn’t have to hold down two jobs or take work we don’t like just to afford benefits, and so on. Time isn’t money, but there is a relationship between time and money that we cannot overlook.

However, it is still worth pondering whether what we most want is what we most enjoy, and whether the money we want (or the things that it buys) really will make us happy.

What I most want varies a little bit. Some days I do want more money, mostly when I am feeling insecure about how I will support myself when I retire. Mostly, though, I want more time. What I most enjoy also varies: some days, work, some days, reading, some days, friends. But rarely stuff. I can’t imagine saying, “my car” or “my new outfit.” I might say, “my garden” which costs money to maintain, or “my cats” who are quite high maintenance in both the time and money department.

Having a healthy commons gives everyone more time to do what they enjoy. Well maintained, accessible parks; libraries open every day and some evenings; free concerts, festivals and theater; free wireless in cafes and terminals; along with affordable and efficient public transportation enabling everyone to bring their friends and family to all these things, are just some examples of what a healthy commons provides for everyone, and the quality and quantity of these things are far more than all but the most wealthy person could have for themselves. What we have to want is what is best for all of us, and that begins with the question of how can we have what we most enjoy?

No comments: