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With the new year just starting there’s still time to make a tiny resolution that could pay off big in terms of happiness. Researchers have found that people are happier when they value their free time more than making extra money, according to a report published Thursday in Social Psychological and Personality Science.
It’s just a small change in focus, says the study’s lead author, Ashley Whillans, a researcher at the University of British Columbia. While people’s tendency to prioritize money over time or time over money tended to be very stable over time, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to change, she adds.
“People just need to think more about how they make and spend money,” Whillans says, adding that there is always a trade-off. “You need to think about how your purchases shape the way you use your time.”
In six studies that included more than 4,600 total participants who ranged from college students to adults in the general population, the researchers found over and over again that people who chose more free time over more money were happier.
The researchers had some ingenious ways to ferret out people’s attitudes towards time and money. One study included an opportunity to enter a lottery. In advance people had to specify whether they would rather win $50 cash or $120 worth of house cleaning, a clear time-saving prize.
People’s level of happiness was determined through questionnaires that asked about mood and happiness.
While the differences in happiness levels in each experiment were only moderate, Whillans suspects that if people choose free time over money on a daily basis, the effects will be larger.
The findings don’t surprise Gary Buffone, an expert on happiness and money, one bit.
“Research tells us that once people have established an income that addresses their basic needs, more money has little to do with a lasting sense of true happiness,” says Buffone, a psychologist in private practice in Jacksonville, Fla.
“Buying and possessing things — a new car or iPad, for example — is associated with a brief ‘buzz’ or boost in our feeling of happiness but does not generate any lasting sense of increased happiness or life satisfaction.”
In contrast, Buffone says, “people who prioritize time over money make more effort to invest in activities that are expected to generate a more stable sense of happiness or enjoyment, such as developing strong social relationships, finding enjoyable hobbies and exercising ”