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Turns out too much free time can be a bad thing

Turns out too much free time can be a bad thing

While consensus thinking tends to believe that as free time increases, so does one’s sense of wellbeing — new research found that too much free time can be a bad thing.

A study conducted by the American Psychological Association — published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology — found excessive free time may diminish wellbeing due to people not perceiving their time as being productive, meaning there’s a difference between using your time to work on a hobby versus spending hours streaming TV shows.

‘More time’ does not always lead to happiness

“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 wellbeing,” said Marissa Sharif, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

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

While workers struggle to find time to disconnect from work, whether in the office or working remotely, de-stressing with additional free time isn’t going to happen unless you’re being productive.

Sharif said that the key component to using your free time wisely is by being productive, which can be a bit difficult to understand in today’s context. Productivity isn’t measured by keeping busy; it’s related to a sense of purpose in life.

What researchers determined is higher levels of free time were significantly associated with higher levels of wellbeing, but only up to a certain point. Researchers said that your wellbeing begins to level off at about two hours and begins to decline after five.

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The study featured an experiment in which participants were asked to imagine having free time each day, ranging from moderate (3.5 hours) or high (7 hours). In these scenarios, they were told to picture how they wanted to spend that time, whether productively, through hobbies or exercise, or unproductively, like watching TV or using a computer.

Lower levels of wellbeing were reported when participants engaged in unproductive activities despite having more free time. Conversely, when people engaged in productive activities with more free time, they felt similar to people who had a moderate amount of free time.

“Though our investigation centred on the relationship between amount of discretionary time and subjective wellbeing, our additional exploration into how individuals spend their discretionary time proved revealing,” Sharif said.

“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.”

 

This article was originally published on The Ladders.

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