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Why Time Affluence Matters, and 10 Ways to Boost Yours

stopwatch.jpgPeople seem to think that material affluence is a consistent predictor of wellbeing, but it’s not. Once you have enough money to satisfy your basic needs, additional money does not provide additional happiness. However, there is another type of affluence that predicts psychological wellbeing much more accurately: time affluence.

In the book Happier, Tal Ben-Shahar, the instructor of a popular positive psychology course at Harvard, writes:

Time affluence is the feeling that one has sufficient time to pursue activities that are personally meaningful, to reflect, to engage in leisure. Time poverty is the feeling that one is constantly stressed, rushed, overworked, and behind. All we have to do is look around us – and often within ourselves – to realize the pervasiveness of time poverty in our culture.

Increasing your time affluence is hard work, especially in a hectic modern world loaded with distractions: cell-phones, email, forum messages, family, career, school, advancement, professional relationships, and social responsibilities.

But if we devoted half as much energy to our happiness as we devote to the measurable, quantifiable factors in our lives (such as income and possessions), many of us would feel a whole lot better.  With that in mind, if you’d like to invest in your happiness, reflect on these 10 time-management tips and consider how each might be applied:  

1. Map Your Life: One of the techniques advocated in Happier is life-mapping. Record the number of hours devoted to every activity during a typical week: working, watching television, family time, paying bills, and so forth.  At the end of the week, indicate how much pleasure and meaning you derived from each activity and whether you’d prefer to do that activity more or less. The life map can help you re-prioritize so you can focus on what’s important to you.

2. Integrity Mirror: Another technique advocated by Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar involves making a list of your most valued activities — family time, hobbies, personal growth, or whatever else – and then reviewing your life on a regular basis to assure that you are living to your highest standards.

3. Optimize Passive Leisure Activities: We need passive leisure time to watch television, read a pop novel, or just plain relax. Unfortunately, it’s too easy to continue these passive activities even after exhausting their pleasure and utility, at which point the activity becomes a mindless energy drain and an unappreciated time waster. The next time you find yourself vegetating in front of the television or otherwise lounging around, ask yourself: Am I still enjoying this? If not, consider moving on.

4. Increase Active Leisure Activities: Consider doing something more active and thought-provoking with your free time, such as pursuing a hobby, starting a side business, or taking steps to change your life for the better. For the time-strapped worker, this sounds like a terrible idea, I know. But remember that it’s all about happiness, present and future – if an active pursuit affords more happiness potential than a passive one, it’s usually a worthwhile trade.

5. Prune Your Schedule: Of course, adding responsibilities to your schedule isn’t a good idea if you’re already overloaded, unless there’s some way to prune lower priority activities first.  We all go through busy periods, but if your calendar is continually overflowing, you may have bitten off more than any reasonable person could chew. Ruthlessly gut activities, keeping only those that afford meaning or utility. Consider using the “life map” or “integrity mirror.”    

6. Fight Correspondence ADD: Sitting in front of a computer makes us want to check our email, forum messages, and Web comments every 5 minutes. If you doubt the severity of this problem, keep an electronic kitchen timer on your desk and count the number of minutes wasted on these activities throughout the day. The solution? Allow yourself twice per day (at pre-determined times) to check all online messages; otherwise, refrain.  Instead of answering your phone every time it rings, use caller ID and voice-mail as a screen and return calls in your own time, on your own terms.

7. Make Time For Fitness: Setting aside a half hour to exercise everyday and additional time to arrange healthy meals sounds counter-intuitive, but it can actually result in a net time gain because of all the additional energy health affords — energy that can help you work faster, focus, and be happier.

8. Reduce Empty Time-Wasters: Everyone must undertake boring, pointless, or menial activities as a normal part of living.  The goal, then, is to reduce such activities, both personally and professionally, to their lowest possible points. Continually ask yourself if what you’re doing at the moment is adding value, pleasure, or meaning; if it’s not, consider replacing it.   

9. Avoid Procrastination: A certain amount of procrastination may provide mental respite from the day’s chores, but the peace and serenity of leisure quickly erode into panic and time poverty.  Review my procrastination article for details on nipping procrastination in the bud.  

10. Learn to Say No: If people take you for granted with numerous requests for favors (or other activities, such as idle chat) that exceed your time boundaries, explain that you don’t have time; learn to say no. People have no choice but to honor firm boundaries.

These tips are designed to increase time affluence, but they’re not magic, and putting them into practice requires dedication, introspection, and hard work.  In my opinion, the benefit is worth the cost.

Quite simply, time poverty destroys happiness. And no matter what beautiful things or wonderful relationships you’re blessed with, life is unduly difficult if you don’t have enough time to enjoy them.

Categories: Time Management


14 Responses to “Why Time Affluence Matters, and 10 Ways to Boost Yours”

  • Lola says:

    Nice article, John, as always. I had never heard the term “time affluence” before, but the logic of it makes sense to me, especially since so many people have their basic needs met and have so little time to enjoy the rest of life.

  • Peter says:

    “Time affluence” is a good term (I hadn’t heard of it either). I came to the realization myself awhile back that having time to pursue my various interests is essential for my happiness and growth. I like your tips – there are a couple there I can focus on.

    On another note, I saw a clip of the author of Happier on the Daily Show a few weeks back. It sounds like I should get the book.

  • JohnPlace says:

    Lola: Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

    Peter: Sometimes, a single important concept can justify the cost of a book, and in my opinion, Happier has at least 3 such concepts; I plan to discuss these in upcoming articles.

  • Jason says:

    I love the concept of time affluence… and I’m quite certain that you’re right about it being closely related to mental health. I would imagine that people who are “time affluent” would rate their happiness and peace levels much higher than average.

  • JohnPlace says:

    Thanks for your thoughts, Jason. Yeah, there was actually a study done by psychologist Tim Kasser that shows the relationship between time affluence and reported psychological wellbeing. Unfortunately, that study is not online (to my knowledge), or I’d post a link.

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  • extremely helpful information. Cant wait to try some of it out on my personal weblog:)

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