Stephen J. Bronner

Strategy

Use this science-backed technique about time to be happier

If you make the most of your time off, you can be more effective while clocked-in.

Malte Mueller/Getty Images

“Time is money” is an oft-cited mantra by many entrepreneurs and business students. But while it’s well-worn advice to possibly increase your bottom line, it’s not always great for your well-being.

Time, of course, is a finite resource that is shared equally by everyone. No matter a person's wealth, they can’t buy more seconds, minutes, or hours. The pursuit of money over valuing time does not bring happiness, according to this study, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

The researchers conducted six studies with more than 4,600 participants. They found that slightly more than half of their participants tended to value time over money, which stretched to their daily interactions and major life events. Some of the studies asked participants to choose between a more expensive apartment with a short commute or a less expensive apartment with a long commute. They also asked them to choose between a graduate program that would lead to a job with long hours and a higher starting salary or a program that would result in a job with a lower salary but fewer hours.

“It appears that people have a stable preference for valuing their time over making more money, and prioritizing time is associated with greater happiness,” said lead researcher Ashley Whillans.

Another study, out of the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, shows why having a mindset that values time boosts happiness.

“People who put a price on their time are more likely to feel impatient when they're not using it to earn money,” says a summary of the research. “And that hurts their ability to derive happiness during leisure activities.”

Avoid putting a price on your time.Morsa Images/Getty Images

In this experiment, a sub-group of participants were given survey questions that primed them to think about their time in terms of money. This group apparently showed greater impatience and lower satisfaction during leisure activities introduced during the experiments but also reported more enjoyment and less impatience when they were paid during an activity, like listening to music.

Thinking about time in terms of money "changes the way you actually experience time," says Sanford DeVoe, one of the Rotman researchers. "Two people may experience the same thing over the same amount of time, yet react to it very differently."

Ironically, a study published in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review found that pursuing happiness makes people feel like they have less time, which in turn makes them unhappy.

Even small changes make a big difference

“The unique process of pursuing happiness as a goal keeps people engaged in a resource-limited state while seeking happiness,” the researchers observe in their research article. “Specifically, because pursuing goals (i.e., happiness) requires an investment of time, and because happiness is a goal that is often never fully realized, the pursuit of happiness should cause people to anticipate needing to dedicate more and more time toward the continued pursuit of happiness and, as a result, to feel as though they have less and less time available to them in the present.”

Whillans suggested some ways a mindset that values time can play out in your day-to-day life, including working slightly fewer hours, paying someone to do chores you don’t enjoy, or volunteering. Even small changes could make a big difference, she said.

“Having more free time is likely more important for happiness than having more money,” she said. “Even giving up a few hours of a paycheck to volunteer at a food bank may have more bang for your buck in making you feel happier.”

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