A recent study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), found that even though we may have more money and our income levels are higher, the unintended consequence for this success is an unhealthy decrease in our free time. And that’s bad for happiness.
When you are constantly pressed for time, the negative stress can increase anxiety and lead to unhealthy habits in eating, sleeping and exercising, the study found. But, if you take your earnings and trade them for time, such as paying someone to mow the lawn or clean your house, you can free up time to spend with the people you enjoy doing activities that bring you pleasure.
Time: the scarce commodity
“We spend our time in ways that doesn’t pay out in terms of our overall well-being,” says Christine Carter, Ph.D., sociologist and author of The Sweet Spot: How to Accomplish More by Doing Less. “Neurologically, the busier that we feel and the more overwhelmed that we feel, the worse we are at managing our time, planning out how we’ll spend our time and perceiving time.”
She says that any time we feel like we don’t have enough of something, it creates a “scarcity mindset” in our brain which triggers our fight-or-flight response. “It worsens our relationship with time and productivity.”
Too many things to do and not enough time to do them results in both mental and physical distress. When your brain is constantly zipping back and forth between tasks, you are burning glucose and oxygen and creating physical tension.
Read more: Upping Your Downtime
Take time to daydream
According to the study, if we spend money on time-saving activities instead of material goods, we may feel more relief at the end of the day and have a more a positive mindset. If we string these positive events together, as explained by Barbara Fredrickson’s broaden and build theory, we have a greater chance at improving our life satisfaction. But, if we overdo it, we can stoke feelings of having less control over our lives or we can fill that time with more of what got us in trouble in the first place, such as checking email, scrolling through our phones or just doing more work.
She adds that trading money for time is good if we use our free time the right way, like spending your it to find fulfillment and connect with people we are close to, which is essential for our well-being. Also, having plain-old down time is not a bad thing, either.
She says if we don’t use our extra time to let the mind wander, the brain will find inopportune times to day dream anyway and interrupt your creativity and productivity.
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Spend it wisely
Pedram Shojai, the best-selling author of The Urban Monk: Eastern Wisdom and Modern Hacks to Stop Time and Find Success, Happiness, and Peace says that time, money and energy are interchangeable in a lot of ways. He explains that when we run out money, we can often borrow more. “If you run out of time, you’re done.”
When we burden ourselves with too much to do and not enough time to do it, we fall into what Pedram calls the time-compression syndrome on his website The Urban Monk. All that stress and worry takes us out of the present moment and makes it hard to focus on the task at hand.
Pedram says, while we can swap money for other people’s time, we also need to be more mindful of where that time is being allocated and to pinpoint the moments in our lives where we are really bound.
“It requires a good understanding of what your goals are, what you want to be and where you want your life to go to,” Pedram says. “Really look at how you are allocating that time so you are not being frivolous or needlessly wasteful.”
Good-quality time could be spent savoring the moments with your young children, catching up on much needed rest and getting more exercise. All of these factors can increase lasting happiness.
Read more: How to Buy Happiness for Less Than $25
Chris Libby is the Section Editor for Live Happy magazine.