It is well established that focusing too much on materialism (at the expense of relationships and experiences) can leave us feeling miserable and unfulfilled. Now a paper published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science finds that our attitude towards time is equally important. They found that those who value time over money tend to be happier.
The researchers, led by Ashley Whillans, devised a quick and simple way to measure this difference. They asked over 100 students to say whether they prioritised having more time or having more money, using two examples to help them appreciate the distinction. The two examples were:
Tina (male names were used for male participants) values her time more than her money. She is willing to sacrifice her money to have more time. For example, Tina would rather work fewer hours and make less money, than work more hours and make more money.
Maggie values her money more than her time. She is willing to sacrifice her time to have more money. For example, Maggie would rather work more hours and make more money, than work fewer hours and have more time.
The students answered this question twice, three months apart, and their two choices were highly consistent, which suggests that people’s prioritisation of time versus money is a stable trait.
The researchers found that the way people answered this question remained the same across various fictional scenarios. For example, participants were asked to chose either a smaller cash reward for taking part in the study, or a larger value reward token toward a time-saving service (such as a cleaner).
They also found that people who said they prioritised time reported being happier. This was true based on various ways of measuring happiness, and the association held even after holding constant many other factors, such as salary, education, hours of work and age/gender, an association the researchers described as ‘small but robust’.
‘Although causality cannot be inferred, these data point to the possibility that valuing time over money is a stable preference that may provide one path to greater happiness,’ Whillans said.
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9 February 2016 | 7 p.m. | IET London