Is having free time more important than having lots of money?


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Money can't buy you happiness, says the cliché — and we all know that working long hours can bring you just the opposite. Now a Canadian study has put the theory to the test. According to new research at the University of British Columbia (UBC), putting more value on your time than the pursuit of money is linked to greater happiness.


Get happy

For their study, the researchers looked at a group of more than 4,600 participants. They were almost evenly split between people who said they most valued their time and those for whom money was a priority. Slightly more than half of those participating said they prioritized time above money. In each of the groups, the choice was fairly consistent both for daily interactions and for major life events with, unsurprisingly, older people more likely than younger people to say time was more important.

"It appears that people have a stable preference for valuing their time over making more money," says lead researcher Ashley Whillans, a doctoral student in social psychology at UBC, "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 findings were published online in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.


Get real

The researchers took participants from a representative cross-section of society — their six individual surveys took data from a nationally representative sample of Americans, a body of students at the University of British Columbia and a selection of adult visitors at a science museum in Vancouver.

Some of the studies used practical, "real world" examples, such as asking an individual whether he or she would prefer a more expensive apartment with a short commute or a less expensive apartment but with a longer journey to work. Participants were also asked to choose between a graduate program that could result in a job with long hours and higher starting salary and a program that would lead to a job with a lower salary but fewer hours.


Get out there

The study does not offer fully conclusive results. Although the team found that neither the gender nor the income of a participant affected how much value was put on either time or money, they admit none of the participants in their study was living at the poverty level and so forced to prioritize money over time to survive.

Focusing more on time and less on money is possible for some. Whillans says working slightly fewer hours, paying someone to do chores like cleaning the house or volunteering with a charity can help shift perspective. While some options might only be available to people with disposable income, small changes can still make a big difference: "Having more free time is likely more important for happiness than having more money," she says. "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."