Would you prefer a more expensive apartment with a shorter commute or a less expensive apartment with a long commute?
That’s one of the many real world questions researchers at the University of British Columbia asked more than 4,600 participants in the latest study on happiness.
The questions aim to get to the heart of what people value more: time or money.
New research that was collected over a year and a half and published by the Society of Personality and Social Psychology suggests valuing your time rather than pursuing money may be linked to greater happiness.
Thousands of people participated in the six studies on happiness, and researchers found that the group was evenly split between those who valued money or time.
This was surprising for lead researcher Ashley Whillans, who says people tend to intuitively not say money because of cultural pressures. But since the groups were almost evenly split, with a slight leaning toward those who prefer time, she feels that participants were pretty honest during the studies.
“It appears that people have a stable preference for valuing their time over making more money, and prioritizing time, is associated with greater happiness,” the doctoral student in social psychology at the University of British Columbia said.
Older people, those who were retired or approaching retirement, tended to say their time was more important than money, which was the reverse for younger participants.
Researchers sampled working Americans, students at the university and adult visitors of the science museum in Vancouver. The study found that those of various income levels and of both genders still tended to prioritize time over money. The study did not include those living at the poverty level.
“We wanted to learn about working adults who could go after more money or choose not to,” she said.
The value of time
Time has become a hot commodity for working Americans. Adults who are employed full time work on average 47 hours per week, according to Gallup. That’s an hour and a half more than a decade ago. Americans also tended to take fewer vacation days than their international peers, according to a 2014 Expedia.com survey.
Whillans’ research focused on day-to-day decisions when it came to happiness. “We aren’t saying you should give up your rent money to take a vacation in order to be happy,” she said.
But smaller decisions can possibly play a bigger role when it comes to happiness.
“In my personal life, my husband started taking a toll route that was a little more expensive so his commute would be shorter. We know that longer commuters generally make us unhappier,” she said.
Others have challenged the adage that money can’t buy happiness though.
Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton told CNN in November that people gain happiness when they spend their money on experiences rather than on things.
People who spend their money on vacations or dinner with friends tend to have greater happiness experiencing those events, even if they are only temporary.
“Because experiences disappear, they let us make up a reality that was amazing and wonderful, and they make us happier,” Norton said.
Whillans added that it’s likely having more free time that is vital toward happiness rather than earning more money. “Even giving up a few hours of a paycheck to volunteer at a food bank may have more bang for your buck in making you feel happier,” she said.
Whillans says the findings suggest that there may be links between time and happiness, but more research is still needed.