This Much Spare Time Makes You Happiest

It is possible to have too much free time for your mental health.

It is possible to have too much free time for your mental health.

When people have about two hours spare time each day they are happiest, a fascinating study finds.

People with between two and five hours spare time a day are equally happy as those with two hours spare.

This suggests that the ‘time poor’ should try and carve out around two hours of free time each day to increase their happiness.

People who have seven hours spare time each day, though, are markedly less happy and satisfied with their lives than those with two hours spare.

This may partly be because people with too much time feel unproductive due to wasting it.

The solution to too much free time is finding and pursuing a purpose.

When people feel purposeful, it makes them happier.

Too busy to enjoy yourself

The findings contradict what many people might imagine: that more spare time is always linked to happiness.

While having two hours is much better than one hour or none, more than this is not linked to higher levels of happiness.

Dr Marissa Sharif, the study’s first author, said:

“People often complain about being too busy and express wanting more time.

But is more time actually linked to greater happiness?

We found that having a dearth of discretionary hours in one’s day results in greater stress and lower subjective well-being.

However, while too little time is bad, having more time is not always better.”

The results come firstly from a set of surveys in which the associations between free time and happiness among thousands of Americans were tested.

These clearly showed that some free time was linked to more happiness, but only up to a point.

Secondly, in a set of experiments people were asked to imagine they had a low (15 minutes), moderate (3.5 hours) or high (7 hours) amount of free time each day.

The results showed that people felt happiest and more productive with a moderate amount of free time each day — around 3.5 hours, or so.

Low amounts of free time were linked to feeling stressed and high amounts to engaging in unproductive activities like watching television and using the computer.

Dr Sharif said:

“Though our investigation centered on the relationship between amount of discretionary time and subjective well-being, our additional exploration into how individuals spend their discretionary time proved revealing.

Our findings suggest that ending up with entire days free to fill at one’s discretion may leave one similarly unhappy.

People should instead strive for having a moderate amount of free time to spend how they want.

In cases when people do find themselves with excessive amounts of discretionary time, such as retirement or having left a job, our results suggest these individuals would benefit from spending their newfound time with purpose.”

The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Sharif et al., 2021).

Author: Jeremy Dean

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology. He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book "Making Habits, Breaking Habits" (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks.

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