“Money can’t buy happiness.” We’ve all heard this saying. What if you were told that prioritizing time, however, could in fact increase your overall satisfaction with life? In a 2019 article published in Science Advances, Ashley Whillans and colleagues conducted a longitudinal study in which they determined those who value time over money tend to be more satisfied and have a more positive outlook on life. 

The researchers enlisted over a thousand graduating-college students as their subjects for this study. They surveyed the students at the time of graduation (T1) and again a year later (T2). The researchers specifically chose these types of subjects because graduating-college students are at a major turning point in their lives in deciding their careers. The researchers argued that whether subjects valued time over money or money over time would impact their career choice and their “subjective well-being” (SWB). SWB was defined as one’s own perception of quality of life and generally feeling more positive than negative. Whillans and colleagues also hypothesized that those who valued time over money at T1 would have a greater SWB at T2 due to allowing for more time spent doing enjoyable activities and socializing. 

As predicted, subjects who had previously said they prioritized time over money at T1 reported greater SWB at T2 than those who had said they valued money over time. These subjects who valued time more were also shown to pursue careers that allocated more time for social activities than did their counterparts who valued money more. The subjects’ preferences for money or time—and therefore their career and activity choices—did also seem to stay fairly continuous with very few subjects changing their preferences between T1 and T2. 

The researchers accounted for multiple variables in their setup of the study, including gender differences, socioeconomic status, and happiness at T1. When applying these specific variables to the results at the conclusion of the study, they did not appreciate any significant change. This allowed Whillans and colleagues to disregard any potential effect of these variables. This study and others like it goes to show that money can’t bring you happiness, but perhaps a little extra time can.


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