Book review: Time and how to spend it, by James Wallman
I recently read James Wallman's “Time and how to spend it: The 7 rules for richer, happier days” after seeing a tweet from Tom Evans at Bleep Bleeps.
The first thing to understand about this book is that it talks specifically about how to spend your free time, not the time you spend at work. It does this using a mnemonic, STORIES:
- Story: If your experiences make great stories, that leads to great conversations, which creates connections and make great relationhips, which in turn makes us happy.
- Transformation: Personal growth and autonomy is vital for happiness.
- Outside & Offline: Spending time outside is good for us. Digital distractions are bad.
- Relationships: We all want the opposite of loneliness, and experiences can bring us closer.
- Intensity: We're happier when we're in the flow and fully engaged, not when we're sitting on the couch.
- Extraordinary: Any experience needs the right balance of extraordinary and ordinary moments.
- Status & Significance: We spend time and money not only on ourselves, but also on others.
Here are some examples of activities for each of the 7 rules:
- Story: Watch a good movie with a friend, go to an escape room or go hiking.
- Transformation: Go to the gym, learn to cook or sign up for a comedy improv course.
- Outside & Offline: Go wild swimming or wild camping, have a picnic, or go to the sea.
- Relationships: Have food with friends, go to a festival or play a board game.
- Intensity: Play a sport, join a club for dancing, singing or running, or start a DIY project.
- Extraordinary: Have a cup of tea, walk on the wing of a biplane or hug a tree.
- Status & Significance: Host a BBQ, turn off the TV, learn to sail or just do something for someone else.
Overall it was an easy and enjoyable read. The science referenced in the book is pretty solid, and based on ideas that you may have come across before, like flow. It's pretty practical, with actionable steps at the end of each chapter.
Content warning: the rest of this review is a bit of a political rant
This is a book that has so much potential but falls flat on its face in the last chapter.
James gets angry when people tell him that he only writes for rich, white, middle-class people. So angry that he actually tells us this in the book. He says if we read carefully, we'll see that he writes about experiences at all price points. The problem is a bit deeper than though, isn't it? Poor people don't have the time to spend on experiences when they are working three jobs just to put food on the table. James also writes that “... capitalism, the much maligned yet magical system that's hauled billions out of poverty...”. Through all the research he's done, how did he not discover that this point has been disproven many times – that average wages have not increased for many years, and that the poor in the Global South is in fact, still being exploited to make the rich richer? I guess he's more concerned about how “capitalism can solve today and tomorrow's problems of abundance”. For someone who writes about the importance about being “outside and offline”, surely he would've seen the number of homeless people in the streets increasing if he actually went outside?
It's ironic that the works he draws from are written by anarchists like David Grueber or democratic socialists like George Orwell, yet James Walman himself cannot see beyond capitalism itself.
He seems to believe that inequality is just something inevitable, a fact of life. Supposedly we just need to “perceive inequality in a different, healthier way”. If Sean earns £600k a year, that must be because he's working super hard and we have to feel sorry for him because he doesn't have time for his friends. Sarah, who is earning £30k a year, is much happier because she has time for hobbies and finishes work by 6pm.
What really broke the camel's back for me was when he defends the environmental impact of flying around the world to have a great experience, by saying that “flying's footprint has reduced dramatically in recent years”. Has the man never used a carbon footprint calculator? Has he even read any literature on the science of global warming?