Feeling swamped by your daily to-do list, work complications, or life happenings?
You might think that a lot of extra free time would make life so much better. However, new research indicates that a lot of free time might not be the golden ticket to happiness that you may have hoped for.
Researchers studied data from two large-scale surveys about Americans spending their time in a new multipart study released last week. 35,375 people responded to the questionnaires as a whole.
People with more free time had better levels of subjective well-being, but only up to a point, according to the study.
People who had two hours of leisure time every day felt better on average than those who had less time. People with five or more hours of leisure time each day, on the other hand, reported feeling worse.
So what exactly is the magic number of leisure needed in the day?
According to the findings, the “sweet spot” for leisure time could be two to three hours each day.
“While too little time is bad, having more time is not always better,” said Marissa Sharif, an assistant professor of marketing at The Wharton School and the head writer of the paper, said in a press release.
The researchers note that part of finding the “sweet spot” is dependent on how people spend the extra time they have on hand.
They did numerous smaller online experiments in addition to evaluating the surveys. In one, participants were asked to anticipate having three and a half to seven free hours per day.
Afterwards, they had to consider either performing “productive” things (like exercising) or conducting “unproductive” activities with that time (like watching TV).
Participants in the study believed that having a lot of spare time during the day would make them dissatisfied — but only if they wasted it. Although this trial was hypothetical, which is one of the study’s shortcomings, it is consistent with prior research suggesting that being in a state of “flow” can be beneficial to people’s mental wellness.
Essentially, how people use their free time matters, ending up with full “free days” to fill at your leisure may not be all that it seems.
What feels “productive,” of course, is up to your discretion. If watching two hours of Cooking With Paris or Love and Hip Hop in your free time makes you feel your happiest, then do it. You shouldn’t feel shame for safely practicing some self-care.
Even typical productive or meaningful pursuits can be simple and enjoyable. Stretching and doing some low-impact aerobics, such as walking, can help you burn stress. Cooking, reading, playing a board game can also help you be in a state of flow during your free time.
“Our results suggest these individuals would benefit from spending their newfound time with purpose,” Sharif said within the study.