Scientists have been chasing the secret to happiness for years: Is it to do with spending less time on social media, learning more languages or having more sex? Maybe it’s geographical or about maintaining richer relationships and keeping your body healthy?
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I think it is to do with all of the above and much more. But there is one thing that really stands out for me and that is time. You see, I recently had a conversation with a friend who had been cramming (rather unsuccessfully) for a higher education exam. I asked him why he needed the qualification and he explained he wanted to finally complete a course he had started several years ago and that he might need it for a new job, he then hastily added that actually he didn’t want another job on top of the ones he was already doing. It really hit home to both of us in that moment, how important free time was to our happiness.
In a new study, researchers from the University of British Columbia found that valuing your time over your money can help you to feel more content with the hand that you have been dealt.
The study that consisted of recruiting more that 4,600 participants, found an almost even split between those who prioritised their time over those who prioritised their wealth. However it was the older participants who favoured time over money and those who prioritised their time over money were happier overall. A participant’s gender or income didn’t affect whether they were more likely to value time or money. (Although the study does have its limitations, as it didn’t include participants living at the poverty level who may have to prioritise money to survive.)
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“It appears that people have a stable preference for valuing their time over making more money, and prioritising time is associated with greater happiness,” said lead researcher Ashley Whillans. “Having more free time is likely more important for happiness than having more money. 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.”
Not that a little bit of extra cash can’t make you happy – it sure can, and previous research has confirmed it , but not if that pay rise is fleeting or takes up more of your time. Also the price of living has gone up and often requires us to work harder and longer hours to simply survive, but often we can adjust to live within our means and more can become less when we actually sit down and reassess things properly, do you really need those two shop bought lattes every day? Can you learn how to make them at home?
There are some other practical ways to shift the balance. Perhaps if people want to focus more on their time and less on money in their lives, they could take some actions to help shift their perspective, such as working slightly fewer hours, paying someone to do disliked chores like cleaning the house or your accounts, or simplifying life by releasing unrealistic and unnecessary self-imposed pressures and deadlines. While some options might be available only for people with disposable income, even small changes could make a really big difference.
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What is clear however, is that by fully cherishing the moments you do have to enjoy yourself, you are more likely to feel happy and content than counting your pennies, so don’t get sucked in to those extra hours for that little bit of extra dosh and enjoy the precious time you have doing things you love and taking time with the people you want to be with, even if it is just yourself.