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If You Crave Joy, More Time Trumps More Money

Research shows the more value we put on our time, the greater our happiness becomes.

 Tom Grill/Getty Images
Tom Grill/Getty Images,

by Sarah Mahoney

Well-Being
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Money is nice, but not as satisfying as having time to do things we enjoy. That insight can have big consequences for those navigating a life change, says lead researcher Ashley Whillans, a doctoral student in social psychology at the University of British Columbia. Here’s what her studies have revealed about time, money and joy.

In six studies with some 4,600 participants, researchers asked questions like this: Would you prefer a more expensive apartment with a short commute or a less expensive apartment with a long commute? They could also choose between jobs with long hours and high salaries, or easier schedules but lower pay.

People were pretty evenly divided between those who value time more and those who prize money more highly, but as the age of participants increased, so did the tendency to value time over money. 

Valuing time more is linked to greater happiness, Whillans says, and that becomes more true as people move through midlife.

That’s good news for those of us in our forties and fifties, since valuing time more is linked to greater happiness, Whillans says, “and as people move through midlife, they are more likely to prioritize time over money.” And surprisingly, she says, a person’s preference for one over the other “isn’t dependent on income.” (She acknowledges that the study didn’t include people living at poverty levels, who might need to focus more on money than time management just to survive.)

Whether we’re inspired more by free time or extra money is a critical clue for people in the midst of life changes, especially since “we tend to do a very bad job of being nice to our future selves, in terms of estimating how much free time we have. We think, `I’ll be less busy next week.’ Our future time field is very uncertain.”

The challenge for anyone in transition is to “think hard about doing the things they care about and spending time with the people they care about. Take a few seconds to think, "How will this decision affect my free time today? Tomorrow? Next week?’” Go ahead,maximize your chances for happiness and joy.