Harvard psychologist Professor Ashley Whillans has surveyed thousands of adults around the world – from the wealthiest to the poorest – about time and money. Not surprisingly, most people focus too much on work and making more money, and not enough on having more time.
Four in five adults in a US survey said they had too much to do and not enough time to do it. It’s a similar situation in New Zealand, where we are known to work longer hours than people in Australia, UK, Spain and Switzerland.
However, OECD data from two years ago suggests that kiwis can still spend an average of 14.9 hours per day on personal leisure, including sleep.
Professor Whillans, who does Tedx Talks with tips for the time-poor and is also the author of Time Smart: How to Get Your Life Back and Live a Happier Life, said that no matter what people’s income, it is better to prioritize personal life over money, and the result will be less stress and a happier mood.
She said that when people are focused on achieving their financial goals, they often become unhappy as they spend time comparing themselves with others who are making even more money.
Time-saving technology is also an intrusion
People around the world report running out of time, Whillans said, even as modern home appliances and more efficient technologies at work have led to more free time. Indeed, on the other hand, technology like smartphones means that work issues can encroach on personal time with friends and family.
“Our brains are sucked from the present moment into our cellphones and we are reminded of all the work we could or should be doing … and these feelings of conflicting goals create time stress. So technology was supposed to free us from the office and now we take our desks wherever we go which fragments and undermines the quality of our leisure time. “
Money protects against everyday stress but does not bring happiness, she said.
Recent research with low-income mothers in Kenya and India has shown that removing the burden of unpaid work and removing feelings of poverty over time provides lasting benefits – reducing stress for women and improving their relationships. .
“Countries with a higher proportion of respondents who value leisure rather than work are happier countries … however wealthy the country is.”
People need enough money to pay their bills and take care of themselves in retirement. Once people get to that point, they should forget about buying more homes and cars, she said.
The benefits of doing this were better relationships, including with partners and more time for socialization, recreation, and exercise.
People with the lowest incomes were often the poorest in time due to multiple jobs, being single parents and using public transport, but they could still find “happiness dollars”.
It was a waste of time spending hours figuring out how to save a few bucks on groceries, she said.
“Most of the ways people spend the time that I have shown in my data that produce happiness don’t involve spending money at all … think about how you might allocate some of it. your limited time-saving discretionary income could go a long way in terms of your happiness. “
Consider time as much as spend money
Professor Whillans said people need to get into the habit of accounting for their time as carefully as they watch what they spend.
One useful exercise was to examine the financial value of time – whereas an extra $ 10,000 a year makes people happier which would amount to a time choice.
What she found was striking, she said. Changing the mindset – even in the absence of behavior change – produces the happiness equivalent of an additional $ 4,400 per year, while outsourcing unpleasant tasks such as housework results in the happiness equivalent of earning an additional $ 12,000 .
“The larger point is that we want to think about spending as much time as possible on activities that give us meaning or satisfaction and to minimize the time we spend on negative activities that seem stressful and aimless. is therefore a solution to get rid of the negative moments of our day. “
The pursuit of wealth can become a never-ending trap because of the time it takes then to pay for what has been bought, she said.
“We want to make sure that our purchases are meaningful to us – that they will create positive experiences and that they won’t cost our time off in the long run. Often times we don’t think about it. in this way. “
She advised people who want more time in their minds to start at the margins, rather than doing something drastic like quitting their jobs.
Changing this type of habit should be written with specific ideas on what can be done instead of checking work emails or going on Twitter.
“The result is generally very positive on average – people again report being more satisfied with their life and less stressed.”