Too much free time 'may be almost as bad as too little'

·2-min read

Spending time at home during the Covid-19 lockdowns has forced many of us to take stock of what we do when off-duty.

But while many of us have pledged to do more home cooking and catch up on reading of late, a new study has found that too much free time can also be a bad thing.

"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," said lead author Dr. Marissa Sharif, an assistant professor of marketing at The Wharton School. "However, while too little time is bad, having more time is not always better."

For the research, Dr. Sharif and her team analysed data from over 21,000 people who participated in the American Time Use Survey between 2012 and 2013. Respondents provided a detailed account of what they did during the prior 24 hours - indicating the time of day and duration of each activity - and reported their sense of wellbeing. The researchers found that as free time increased, so did wellbeing, but it levelled off at about two hours and began to decline after five. To further investigate the phenomenon, the researchers conducted two online experiments involving more than 6,000 participants.

"Though our investigation centred on the relationship between amount of discretionary time and subjective well-being, our additional exploration into how individuals spend their discretionary time proved revealing," continued Dr. Sharif. "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 research was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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