Book Review: Time and How to Spend It

Time and How to Spend It: The 7 Rules for Richer, Happier DaysTime and How to Spend It: The 7 Rules for Richer, Happier Days by James Wallman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I avoid the self-help genre most of the time. There’s a sheen of sleaze on most of these books, and they tend to read either like a used car sales pitch, ensemble complete with plaid blazer and slimy combover, or like an academic paper that didn’t have enough nuance or jargon to get published in a journal.

This is the latter, but that’s okay. Unlike academic papers, this was designed to be read.

Wallman builds his case with the eclecticism of a caffeinated toddler, tearing validations piecemeal from ancient philosophy, mystically-bent depth psychology (back when they used the term “psychic” to describe the subconscious), and modern positive psychology studies. The result is the Enchiridion — of Adventure Time, not Epictetus.

You’re the hero of the story. Your function is to flesh out the story. Everything you do to make the story more interesting will improve your subjective well-being, which just means “happiness” in the pospsy argot. The more interesting you make your story, the more you do strange or challenging things to build your experiences, the greater the breadth of these experiences, which will result in an expanding social circle and improved social status.

It’s taboo to talk about, but the research is unequivocal that higher status leads to better health, longer lives, and greater self-reported happiness. That doesn’t necessarily mean status as defined by which model iPhone you have. Status can be the strength and number of your social relationships, your prestige at work, and how favorably you’re viewed in the community. You can be broke as a joke and still benefit from high status, so long as that status exists in a paradigm that matters to you.

Wallman suggests as much college as possible, naturally, but also rallies against consumerist culture so viciously that he accidentally winds up making a compelling case for capitalism. The consumption of goods, chasing the dragon of stuff, leaves us hollow and detached from one another. What we own says nothing about ourselves, except that we own things. Anyone can own things. He encourages a disregard for stuff (dude HATES stuff) and a new focus on novel experiences, relationships, and the constant pursuit of flow as the keys to happiness and personal fulfillment.

Wallman makes a convincing case against the brain candy provided by social media. It checks most of our boxes for flow experiences, providing us with a level of risk and the possibility for reward, as any good Skinner box should, but it fails to deliver on anything that allows us to grow as people, and the constant vigilance keeps our cortisol high and our little ratperson noses a-twitchin’. He likened it to slot machines (which he insisted on calling “fruit machines” due to terminal Englishness).

Speaking of, there’s a cute little air of cultural idolatry buried in the text; our mans is British, but he’s kind of ashamed of being British due to the cultural stereotype of their being reserved and cautious, while the guidelines he’s brewing up perfectly fit the likewise European stereotype of the Bold, Brash American, blundering through their Campbellian hero’s journey full bore because they don’t have the refinement to recognize other options.

Great book. I couldn’t put it down. I knocked a star off for the title. Don’t give me rules, I’m a grown-ass man.

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