"Time is money" in some limited business sense, but finding the right balance between the two isn't quite so straightforward. New research suggests that focusing on time instead of money produces more happiness, but as always it's complicated. The study isn't perfect, and you may not have the financial luxury of declining work, even if you'd like to. Still, for most of us above the poverty line in the first world, it's worth stopping and considering how we're selling ourselves out for money that won't even make us happier.
Social psychologist Ashley Whillans of the University of British Columbia led this investigation, the findings of which are published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. She and her team looked at 4,600 participants, who ranged from ordinary Americans to students at their university and attendees at a Canadian science museum, to figure out whether they preferred to make more money or protect their time for non-money-making activities.
On various measures, like choosing a graduate program with different long hours or short hours employment options at the end or whether to pay more for an apartment with a short commute time, the participants were about split on prioritizing money over time (slightly more preferred time, and they tended to be older). The trait for preferring to prioritize money or time seemed stable across the questions. Since well-spent time is more closely associated with happiness than earning money, people with the personality tendency to focus on money might therefore be screwing themselves over.
The study has some limitations, though. First of all, it didn't include poverty-level participants, who might very well need to focus on money instead of time, for obvious reasons. Though some researchers claim that the money and happiness connection tops out at an annual income in the neighborhood of $75,000 per year, that's well above the poverty line and probably more than the income of many of this study's participants. Still, functioning in the real world does generally require some money (at least until the post-capitalist, post-scarcity robot revolution brings us everything we could ever want, for free).
Also, the study found only a correlation between caring more about time than money and happiness levels. It didn't attempt to get people to change their pre-existing preferences or behaviors, to see if switching from a focus on time to money (or vice versa) would make them happier.
So, these findings might just mean that people who are less happy to begin with, perhaps even genetically, are more likely to try to find happiness in money. Perhaps they even have weaker social ties or fewer non-money-related sources of potential happiness, too. Still, if you've got a pile of money and you're still not as happy as you think you could be, it's certainly worth trying another strategy for a while to see if it fulfills you better. At least spending some of that money on experiences instead of stuff and volunteering your time could be good places to start.
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