When was the last time you wished you had more time for a hobby or for yourself? Whether working out, dancing with friends, or playing games, an escape from responsibilities can serve as a recharge before your next challenge. And yet, as sure as the free-time will end will come a wandering mind. Do the laundry, respond to Sam’s email, touch base with Susan, and do twenty other things before dinner. If you could stay focused on the present moment, you’d be amazed at how much more you can achieve and how much happier you can become.
Money may not be able to buy love, but it can buy time. You can outsource cooking a meal to a restaurant and have it delivered as easily as outsourcing other chores. However, we often go a step further and embrace the view that “time is money.” When seeing time as money, studies find that people become impatient with unpaid activities and do not experience joy from the pleasures of daily life, wanting instead to go back to work.
Whether driving for an hour to get gas that is five cents cheaper or waiting in long lines to get a free sample, we often sacrifice our free time just to save a little money. Moreover, according to Happy Money, even as we earn more money, we do not spend more time enjoying ourselves, but on stressful activities, such as working and commuting.
Time Affluence Theory
The feeling of being harried and rushed is a lack of time affluence and has been linked to lower job satisfaction, headaches, and trouble sleeping. Research shows that people who feel pressure for time have difficulty staying in the moment. Staying in the moment is the very concept of mindfulness and all the values it brings! Whether an activity is pleasant or not, people are happiest when focused on it.
In general, people that work longer hours report lower time affluence. Similarly, getting paid more causes this same effect! In a study, where two groups were paid different hourly rates to perform the same tasks for the same amount of time, the higher rate payees reported feeling more pressed for time.
While wealthier people report feeling more pressed for time, simply feeling like your time is valuable can make it seem scarcer, and hence in greater demand. Hourly workers, from baristas to lawyers, are more inclined to give up time in exchange for additional money as each hour has an explicit value. In a national survey, 32% of people paid by the hour reported that the would trade more time for more money, whereas only 17% of non-hourly workers found this trade-off appealing.
Scarcity increases value, and conversely, valued things are perceived to be scarce. As time becomes worth more money, people see that time as more scarce. This powerful association can be seen through lifetimes as salaries increase until retirement and but also for the entire country as incomes increase.
Time Affluence Trap
When considering decisions in terms of what our salaries allow us to afford we run the risk of becoming mesmerized upon a hedonic treadmill. As we habituate to the newest source of pleasure, we move on to the next. By not considering options in terms of time, people can fall into choosing a nicer home in exchange for a longer commute.
Americans – both renters and homeowners. – spend over two weeks per year commuting, which exceeds many workers’ annual vacation. Workers with lengthy commutes are in an unpleasant mood about 25% of the time and more likely to report a range of adverse physical and emotional conditions, especially for employees that do not find work engaging.
Time and money promote different mind-sets. Transforming decisions from being about money into decisions about time spurs people to engage in activities that promote well-being.
While equating time with more money makes it feel scarce, giving it away for free increases time affluence. When people engage in volunteer work, even for as little as fifteen minutes, they feel that they have more free time in their lives. For example, in a study, students were given the option to leave class 15 minutes early or to volunteer helping other students – the students that stayed to help reported feeling less harried than the students that had 15 extra minutes.
People who feel they have free time are more likely to exercise, do volunteer work, and participate in other activities linked to increased happiness.
When outsourcing activities, be careful not to only consider the monetary opportunity costs. Sure, ordering a pizza and working an extra hour may be cheaper than cooking, but is that the only trade off? Many activities, such as cooking, can be joyous adventures that allow us to socialize with others, eat healthier, and be more active.
These small steps can bring you spiritually closer to happiness. From identifying your joys, increasing time affluence and generosity, and improving mindfulness, health and even performance at work, you do not sacrifice your dreams but pursue them sustainably.
What do you think?