Added to Favorites
Add to My Favorites
Added to My Favorites
by Sharon Jayson
Updated October 3, 2022
Given the choice, people who value more time in their lives than more money tend to be happier. And it’s a preference that seems to grow with age.
Those findings emerged in a study that pits the two choices in the quest for happiness. Researchers at the University of British Columbia presented more than 4,600 participants, ranging in age from 18 to 81, with two vignettes. One prioritized time and the other gave preference to money. Results showed “people who prioritized time over money reported experiencing greater happiness.”
In six separate studies with three different populations, researchers found an almost even split, with slightly more than half prioritizing time more than money; older people were “somewhat more likely” to value time compared with those who were younger, says lead researcher Ashley Whillans, a doctoral student in social psychology.
Study participants included college students, Canadian adult visitors of a science museum in Vancouver and a nationally representative sample of employed Americans. The research was published in January 2016 in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
“This research is not talking about making decisions between paying one’s mortgage and going on a vacation. We’re talking about discretionary income,” Whillans says. “We underestimate the extent our financial decisions impact our time. What’s new about this research is this trade-off aspect.”
That either-or choice could be one reason the effect is small when finding that those who value time over money are happier, suggests Louis Tay, who studies happiness and well-being as an assistant professor of psychological sciences at Purdue University.
“It’s robust, and it’s there, but it’s small,” says Tay, who has read the study but was not among the researchers.
“If we had asked individuals on 1-10 scale, how much do you value time and how much do you value money, maybe we would get a more nuanced picture,” he suggests. “I think they’re losing out on a lot of information, and that’s why I think the effect sizes are small.”
The new research is in line with earlier studies that have shown focusing on time leads to greater happiness than focusing on money. A study published online in November 2015 in the journal Current Opinion in Psychology highlights such findings, as well as how age affects happiness. Knowing that your time on earth is limited “can influence not only how much happiness people experience, but also how they experience happiness,” the study says.
• “Valuing Time Over Money Is Associated With Greater Happiness,” Social Psychological and Personality Science, January 2016. Read a summary of the study. (A fee is required to access the full study.)
• “When does money matter most? Examining the association between income and life satisfaction over the life course,” Psychology and Aging, March 2015. In this study, researchers analyzed data from three different panel studies in which more than 80,000 people were surveyed about topics such as their life satisfaction, income and values. The researchers found that those who earned more income tended to report higher levels of life satisfaction, especially those in their 30s to 50s. As a population study, it shows a correlation but does not prove cause and effect. Read a summary of the study. (A fee is required to access the full study.)