Happiness and leisure time appear to have a clear proportional relationship. Our sense of well-being grows as our leisure time increases, but to what extent? Is there a cap? Is it bad to have a lot of free time? This issue has been addressed experimentally throughout the last decade, the results of which we shall learn below.
Can it be bad to have a lot of free time?
Everyone values free time, time that may be spent on hobbies, going for a stroll, seeing friends, or simply relaxing from the busy pace of working life.
The majority of employees live at a hectic pace daily. Most of our days are consumed with job duties, leaving us feeling as if we have no time for anything else. We persuade ourselves that we need more vacation time, that our weekends should be three days long, or that we should get off work early.
The term “business” is derived from the Latin words “nec” and “osium”, which mean “no leisure,” which is why people associate the more working hours we have, the less time we have to enjoy our hobbies, family, friends, and relaxation, things that offer us happiness and pleasure. Because of this, most people believe that having more free time equals being happier yet. Is this statement true? But is this adage accurate, and can having too much free time be a bad thing?
This topic has prompted Marissa Sharif’s group, which includes academics from the universities of California and Pennsylvania, to conduct a study on the extent to which free time indicates well-being and pleasure.
There is not too much or too little free time
While the past study has shown that having too little free time leads to discontent and a lack of well-being, too much leisure is not necessarily desirable. The researchers reviewed data from roughly 35,000 people in Sharif’s study, titled The Effects of Being Time Poor and Time Rich on Life Satisfaction.
They analyzed data from 21,736 U.S. citizens who participated in the American Time Use Survey between 2012 and 2013, in which participants indicated what they had done in the 24 hours before answering the questionnaire, including the time of day and duration of each activity, as well as reporting their level of well-being.
The researchers discovered that as free time grew, so did well-being, but there was a limit: after two hours, it remained stable, but after five hours, it began to decline considerably.
Sharif et al. (2018) also evaluated data from 13,639 Americans who took part in the National Study of the Changing Workforce between 1992 and 2008 in another phase of their research. The survey included various work-related questions, but others were designed to determine how much leisure time the participants had. These were some of the questions:
“On average, how many hours/minutes do you spend on leisure activities on workdays?”
“How do you feel about your life these days? Would you describe your feelings as 1. very satisfied, 2. slightly satisfied, 3. somewhat dissatisfied, or 4. very dissatisfied?”
Again, Sharif’s group discovered that having a lot of free time was connected with having a lot of happiness, but there was a limit. People who had more free time did not have higher happiness beyond that point, implying that having more free time is not synonymous with having more happiness. It is like the myth of Goldilocks: neither the little nor the oversized chair makes her happy; only the middle one does.
Relaxation, well-being, and productivity
Researchers ran two online tests with over 6,000 participants to further understand this phenomenon. Volunteers in the first trial were instructed to envision having a particular amount of free hours each day for six months.
Participants were randomly allocated to have 15 minutes, 3.5 hours, or 7 hours of leisure time daily. Participants were asked to identify their expected enjoyment, happiness, and contentment levels.
Participants in the groups with trim and much free time predicted that their well-being would be worse than that of the moderate group. The researchers discovered that those with little leisure time felt more stressed than those with moderate leisure time, contributing to lower well-being. In contrast, those with a lot of leisure time felt more unproductive than those in the moderate group, contributing to lower subjective well-being.
The purpose of the second experiment was to determine the possible influence of productivity. To do this, participants were asked to envision having moderate (3.5 hours) and high (7 hours) free time per day. Still, they were also asked to imagine spending that time on constructive (e.g., exercising, hobbies, or jogging) and unproductive (e.g., watching TV) activities (e.g., watching TV or using the computer).
Researchers uncovered that individuals who had more free time reported lower levels of well-being while engaging in useless activities. Those who engaged in productive activities, on the other hand, felt content and had similar levels of well-being to those in the moderate free-time group, even when they were allocated to the group with a lot of free time.
Unemployment and retirement
While the study’s main emphasis was on determining the link between subjective well-being and the amount of free time available, researching how individuals use their leisure time and how much it affects their well-being provided exciting results. According to their findings, having whole days of free time to fill might contribute to feelings of sadness.
With this in mind, the study emphasizes the need to learn how to appropriately manage leisure time, especially when going through phases like retirement or being unemployed.
People in this situation may feel deeply dissatisfied, unhappy, and as if they are wasting time, which is why it is strongly advised to fill the empty time with activities such as attending training courses, enrolling in languages, playing sports, or doing any activity that has an organized time frame.