Do you spend much time thinking about time? Most of us spend a lot of time thinking how little time we have, but that's not the same thing. We spend little time actually thinking about time, which I'm coming to think is a big mistake.
Time is an economic resource, so it's surprising even economists don't think much about it. Apart from Stephen Hawking and his physicist mates, it's probably psychologists who do most of the thinking, but even they don't do much.
No matter how rich or poor we are, each of us gets the identical daily ration of precisely 24 hours. So it's one dimension of life working to reduce the gap between rich and poor.
But time is an economic resource in another sense. When we exchange time for money we use time as a means to an end. We use the money to buy things we hope will make us happy. But time is also an essential part of the end itself. We need time to enjoy the things we've bought with the money.
And the more time we spend earning money, the less time we have to enjoy ourselves - including by doing things that don't cost much if any money.
In an article in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, Jennifer Aaker, Melanie Rudd and Cassie Mogilner, marketing experts at Stanford and the University of Pennsylvania, remind us of the ultimate reason why time is an end as well as a means: the way each of us chooses to spend our time and the experiences we accumulate over the years quite literally constitute our lives.
So let's forget money and focus on time. How can we maximise the "utility" - satisfaction or happiness - we derive from the limited, if unknown, quantity of time we've been allotted? The authors survey the psychological studies of time and distil them into a number of helpful hints.
Their first principle is: spend your time with the right people. Because we're social animals, the most satisfying thing we do is spend time with our nearest and dearest and close friends. We should allocate more of our time to being with them and enjoying the intimate conversations we have with them.
But if it's so satisfying, why do we need reminding? Because of all the time we need to devote to making money, but also because we seem to be programmed to worry more about getting money than about using our time in ways we find satisfying. We have an inbuilt bias to worry more about means than ends.
This raises the question of how we could get more joy from all the time we spend at work, but that's so important I'll leave it for a column of its own.
A less obvious principle is: enjoy the experience without spending the time. Research in neuroscience has shown that the part of the brain responsible for feeling pleasure can be activated by merely thinking about something pleasurable, such as drinking your favourite brand of beer or driving your favourite brand of sports car.
"In short, this research suggests that we might be just as well off, or even better off, if we imagine experiences, but not have them," the authors say.
If that sounds a bit whacky, try the next principle: expand your time. You can, of course, buy yourself more time by paying someone to do the household chores you don't enjoy (in my case, mowing the lawn and washing the car).
One way or another, the more discretionary time we can organise for ourselves, the more we're likely to enjoy our time. This is partly because of the two-way relationship between the scarcity of time and its value to us.
It's not just that having little makes it feel more valuable, the authors say. It's also that, according to research results, when time is more valuable, we perceive it to be scarcer.
Many people advocate focusing on the present moment rather than the future as a way of increasing happiness. This may work because research suggests being present-focused slows down our perception of the passage of time, allowing us to feel less rushed.
But get this: again according to the research, you can achieve a similar effect simply by taking long, slow breaths for, say, five minutes.
Having greater control over how we spend our time - or even just feeling that we do - makes us happier, less depressed and physically healthier. Freely chosen activities increase happiness, whereas obligatory activities lower it - unless, of course, we can get ourselves into the right frame of mind.
I've often thought that the way to feel more relaxed and rested after the weekend is to be less greedy about all the things you want to fit in. I think it, but I don't always do it.