Time Can Make You Happier Than Money


It’s true for all ages and stages — even for recent college graduates, according to a new study

Robert Roy Britt

PPeople who value time over money tend to be happier, according to multiple studies. And new research in the journal Science Advances shows that this is particularly true as a person leaves college, facing weighty career choices while perhaps saddled with debt. Graduates who value time over money are more likely to pursue things they enjoy, including hobbies, social relationships, internships, and careers that provide intrinsic satisfaction rather than merely seeking compensation, the study suggests.

Researchers asked 1,000 graduating students at the University of British Columbia to rate how satisfied they felt with their lives overall, and the extent to which they had experienced positive emotions (like joy and happiness) and negative emotions (like sadness and stress) over the past four weeks. A year later, the graduates were surveyed again.

In both surveys, about 62% of them said they value time more than money, and those people were happier. Comparing the time-money trade-off to other well-established happiness factors, the researchers found that valuing time over money brought double the magnitude of happiness related to materialism in general and happiness known to accrue from high parental income. And while the study does not prove cause and effect, it suggests that valuing time over money can also predict how happy the graduates become as adults. The graduates in the study came from families with incomes ranging from low to high, but family socioeconomic status was not predictive of their tendency to prioritize time or money.


“People who value time make decisions based on meaning versus money,” says study leader Ashley Whillans, an assistant professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. “They choose to do things because they want to, not because they have to.”

It must be noted that the study surveyed students at the University of British Columbia in Canada. It’s unclear, without a separate study, how the results might be different among U.S. graduates. Whillans guesses — and she emphasizes that this is a guess — that what matters isn’t where students go to school but how much debt they graduate with. “If they graduate with more debt, they might feel happier in the short term valuing money more than time” and choosing a job to pay the bills, she says. “If they graduate with less debt, they might feel less happy in the short term valuing money more than time.”

“People who value time make decisions based on meaning versus money. They choose to do things because they want to, not because they have to.”

Other research links time to happiness throughout adulthood. A 2016 study of 4,000 U.S. adults found that people who valued time more than money were “happier and more satisfied with life than the people who chose money,” even after the researchers accounted for differences in age, income, and the amount of time people spent at work or at leisure. In a Pew Research Center survey, when asked to rank various activities based on meaningfulness, people chose spending time with family, outdoors, and with friends as the top three, followed by spending time with pets, listening to music, reading, and religion. In eighth place: job or career.

Of course, reality forces everyone to place some value on money. “Work equals status in U.S. work culture,” Whillans says. “We are taught that time equals money, and financial insecurity makes us focus more on money and less on time.”

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