By Marilynn Preston
Americans are known around the world for eating too much, but when it comes to time, we are starving ourselves. It’s called “time famine” – an unpleasant, uncomfortable feeling that we have too much to do in too little time. Social scientists have been studying it for more than 20 years.
“I’m behind before I get up!” my mother-in-law used to say. Sound familiar? It’s that existentially endless to-do list that keeps us feeling rushed, hassled, busy-busy-busy, the opposite of all is well.
Sadly, I don’t have the time necessary to explain all the reasons why “time famine” is overwhelming so many of us and why “time affluence,” the blissful sense of having plenty of time, is so elusive.
But you can bet your favorite digital device that it has everything to do with the crush of modern technology and what sociologist Simon Gottschalk calls “the oppression of speed.”
“Unchecked acceleration has consequences,” writes Gottschalk, a sociology professor at the University of Las Vegas. “It disturbs our leisure time, our family time – even our consciousness.”
Ashley Whillans, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, and Elizabeth Dunn, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia, have done some eye-opening research about how we value our time versus our money and how those attitudes affect our well-being.
Whillans and Dunn divide the world into Taylors and Morgans. You’re a Taylor if you value your time over your money, and you’re a Morgan if you value your money over your time. Their research shows that people are pretty much split between the two. But here’s the takeaway: It’s the Taylors of the world, the people who consciously make time in their days to take a walk, play the guitar, call a loved one, tend their garden, volunteer or meet a friend for coffee, who report a much higher level of happiness in their lives.
In one of Whillans and Dunn’s studies, participants were given $40 and told they had to spend it on something that would save them time. Some used the money to pay someone to clean the house, order in food or hire a kid to mow the lawn.
Later, the same participants were given another $40 but now they had to spend it on something material: a T-shirt, new shoes, whatever.
Guess which experience brought them more happiness? Bingo!
Now hear this, especially if time famine is eating you alive: People who prioritize their time over their money experience greater happiness and life satisfaction. And the happiness they feel is directly associated with alleviating time pressure.
So what can you do to maximize your happiness and minimize your stress?
I think you’re going to love this first answer …
Chose To Do Nothing. “Doing nothing – or just being – is as important to human well-being as doing something,” says Gottschalk in a recent article called “In Praise of Doing Nothing.”
The problem is that “in a hypermodern society propelled by the twin engines of acceleration and excess, doing nothing is equated with waste, laziness and lack of ambition.”
Don’t fall for it. “Albert Einstein was well-known for staring for hours into space in his office. … spending time in simple reflection and contemplation are essential to health, sanity and personal growth.”
Buy Time. Yes, if you work fewer hours and spend more hours at play, engaged in what you love doing – riding your bike, taking your kids to a park – you may earn a little less money, but you’ll gain greater happiness.
To enhance your well-being, consider paying (or bartering with) other people to do certain tasks. (In my family, we call that “closing the gap.”)
The trick is to use your recaptured time to have experiences that spark joy and enhance relationships. Paying someone to clean your house while you stay inside, working at the computer, checking email, scrolling through Facebook, is not what we’re talking about, OK?
Choose To Decelerate. Our lives are too busy, and we are moving too quickly. Take your foot off the pedal, says Gottschalk, “by simply turning off all the technological devices that connect us to the Internet – at least for a while – and assess what happens when we do.”
Fabulous advice … but there’s nothing simple about it.
– Marilynn Preston is the author of “Energy Express,” America’s longest-running healthy lifestyle column. For more, visit www.MarilynnPreston.com.