7 Ways to Measure the True Costs of Life

May 3rd, 2016   •   1 comment   

7 Ways to Measure the True Costs of Life

Courtesy of Daily Devotional

Do you know what you are truly paying for in every aspect of your life? What are the different “life currencies” that we trade with?

Nope they aren’t just time and money, although both of those “life currencies” are extremely important.

If you think about it, there are actually 7 different baskets of “equity” in your life. To make it easier for you to remember, I have created the acronym SMARTER to depict what these seven currencies are: Space, Money, Attention, Relationships, Time, Energy, and Realness.

As you’d imagine, these 7 baskets of “life assets” are closely inter-twined and inter-related. When you “invest” or “expend” more of one currency, you will have less of the other, and vice-versa.

Let me go through each in turn.

1) Space

Space can be conceived of in various ways. In the context of one’s life, it can be envisaged to be an absence of stuff – content, physical matter, or anything similar.

In my mind, there are five different types of spaces:

  1. Physical space: where you live, work and play, as well as your physical assets;
  2. Intellectual space: the intellectual things which occupies your conscious mind;
  3. Emotional space: the emotional variables which tug at your heart;
  4. Personal space: the measure of freedom and discretion at your disposal; and
  5. Social space: the degree of closeness or separation between yourself and others.

The different forms of spaces are often closely associated with each other. For example, when you sell a car, you are not just making space in your garage, but releasing the idea and feeling of being a car owner from your mind and your heart.

To enjoy bliss and peace of mind, you need to create sufficient space for yourself in all aspects of life.

2) Money

Naturally, money is an important life asset. Without funds, we are unable to operate effectively and efficiently in almost every aspect of our life. The saying that “Money makes the world go round” is true in almost every situation.

With sufficient dough, you can purchase other “life assets” to shore up your life. For example, politicians use money to buy attention, families use money to buy space (homes), and working mothers use money to buy energy (eg by hiring a domestic helper).

Despite being highly fungible and hence popular, money has often attracted a lot of controversy. This isn’t because money is evil per se, but rather due to the impact of acquiring money on all your other life currencies.

3) Attention

In a cluttered and information overloaded world, attention is fast becoming a scarce resource. Many of us are guilty of spending hours and hours staring at our screens, oblivious to the world around us.

This scarcity of attention presents a paradox in the age of social media and mobile digital devices. Attention deficit disorders don’t just afflict kids – many adults are also infected by this malady.

By shifting our attention from the real world to the virtual world, we lose our presence and focus on the things which truly matter – the people, places and events around us. Distractions assail our senses and rob us of the intensity of our experience and our concentration. This reduces the quality of our work and our engagement with others.

4) Relationships

Have you heard about the emotional bank account?

Popularised by Stephen Covey of the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” fame, its main premise is that we “deposit” into the emotional bank accounts of others when we do them a favour and “withdraw” from it when we need help from them.

If you think about it, relationships can be considered as a form of life currency. There are different dimensions of relationship capital here:

  1. Quantity: In the digital age, the number of friends and followers is a very rough proxy of this. However, numbers certainly aren’t as important as depth.
  2. Quality: The strength of your relationships with others is probably far more important than the number of Facebook fans you have.
  3. Engagement: No, we are not just talking about likes and comments, but real life interaction. Meeting for coffee. Sharing your woes with each other. Helping him to take care of his dog while he is away. Stuff like that.
  4. “Cover my back” factor: The acid test of relationships hinges on the answer to this question: Will she watch my back and defend me when push comes to shove? (Assuming of course that you didn’t do anything wicked.)

5) Time

I love the Chinese saying “一寸光阴一寸金,寸金难买寸光阴” which literally means that an interval of time is worth more than an ounce of gold. Indeed, time is such a vital asset because lost time is irreplaceable.

The two seconds that you took to read this sentence, for instance, is gone forever. Sorry for robbing your time!

Time can be understood in various ways. However, I love how the ancient Greeks breaks it down time into two components:

  1. Kairos: This represents the right or opportune moment to do something. For example, the popular saying in investment – “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the second best time is now.”
  2. Chronos: This means chronological or sequential time, in other words, the time that we are most aware of. For instance, 2nd of July 2015 at 1.26 pm Singapore Time.

Some say that time doesn’t really run out. Instead, what’s really ebbing away are bits of our life. Which brings us to the next life currency.

6) Energy

Have you ever felt totally exhausted, even when you were supposed to be on holiday? Or spent your precious weekend literally flat on your back?

Well, energy is one factor that is limited in our lives. Even the most well-trained Olympic athlete or hard driving CEO will face a limit to his or her energy levels.

Once again, there are different elements at play here:

  1. Mental capacity: This often feeds directly into one’s attention. The most mental reserves you have, the better able you are to handle multiple arduous tasks.
  2. Willpower: When the going gets tough, the tough gets going. Will power is the energy that is often measured in one’s ability to withstand adversities and to rise repeatedly after being knocked down.
  3. Emotional energy: Love is a powerful force. So are hate, sorrow and joy. Like it or not, our feelings have a huge impact on our energy levels.
  4. Sources: There are many different ways for us to “refill” our energy supply. They can be physical like food, exercise or rest; emotional like being with good friends or “energetic” people; intellectual like books and blog posts which feeds your mental reserves; or spiritual like when we pray to God, meditate or read the Holy Scriptures.

7) Realness

Last, but certainly not least, realness is all about being your authentic and true self. How much of your identity is being shaped or stifled by your surroundings, stakeholders, or self-defeatist attitude?

Being real means having the freedom, motivation, energy, time, relational support, and finances to pursue your life’s work. It is about achieving self-actualisation and flow in whatever you do.

Unfortunately, many of us wear masks. We bury our ideals, values and beliefs. We keep our ideas in check. We divert our attention elsewhere.

We spend our “authenticity equity” in our hobbies and leave them behind when we check into our workplaces.

Weighing Life’s True Costs

Now that you’ve learned all about the seven life currencies, it is useful to consider more holistically what the real costs of your actions and inactions are. As you’ve rightly guessed, life is really a balancing act where we trade one currency, asset or resource for another.

With the above framework in mind, it may be useful to draw up a table and consider the true costs of any pursuit weighted against the seven variables. You can develop your own scale for each variable and consider these in total.

What are your thoughts on the seven life currencies? Are there other “life costs” that we should consider?

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One comment

  1. posted on May 05, 2016 at 6:23 AM

    Wonderful insights! Thanks!

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