My favorite things in life don’t cost any money. It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time. – Steve Jobs
Valuing your time more than the pursuit of money is linked to greater happiness, suggests new research conducted by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.
In six studies with more than 4,600 participants, researchers found an almost even split between people who tended to value their time or money, and that choice was a fairly consistent trait both for daily interactions and major life events. The study was published online in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
Slightly more than half of the participants stated they prioritized their time more than money. Older people were more likely to say they valued their time than younger people.
Lead researcher Ashley Whillans, a doctoral student in social psychology at the University of British Columbia, said of the findings:
It appears that people have a stable preference for valuing their time over making more money, and prioritizing time is associated with greater happiness.
As people age, they often want to spend time in more meaningful ways than just making money.
The researchers conducted separate surveys with a nationally representative sample of Americans, students at the University of British Columbia, and adult visitors of a science museum in Vancouver. Some of the studies used real-world examples, such as asking a participant whether he would prefer a more expensive apartment with a short commute or a less expensive apartment with a long commute. A participant also could 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.
A participant’s gender or income didn’t affect whether they were more likely to value time or money, although the study didn’t include participants living at the poverty level who may have to focus on earning money to survive.
For working people, time is a precious commodity. Americans work an average of 34.4 hours a week, longer than their counterparts in the world’s largest economies.
But many log even more hours: adults who are employed full-time say they work an average of 47 hours per week. That equates to nearly six days a week, and is about an hour and a half more than they reported ten years ago. Nearly 4 in 10 workers say they put in 50+ hours per week. And, Americans take fewer vacation days than their peers in other countries.
Whillans’ research focused on day-to-day decisions when it came to happiness:
We aren’t saying you should give up your rent money to take a vacation in order to be happy.
There are some actions that people can take if they want to focus more on their time and less on money. The researchers say actions that can shift perspective, like working slightly fewer hours, paying someone to do chores like cleaning the house, or volunteering with a charity, can help. Some options might be available only for people with disposable income, but even small changes could make a big difference, Whillans said.
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.