September 27, 2021

Too Much Free Time is as bad as Too Little

Nearly everyone reading this has dreamed of packing it all in and lying on a beach all day at some point. Well, the American Psychological Association has some news for you...

Researchers examined data from over 21,000 Americans, where subjects provided a detailed account of everything they did over the last 24 hours, alongside their evaluation of their well-being over that same period. As you would expect, researchers found that well-being increased when subjects had more free time. However, this effect levelled off after 2 hours. Meaning that after 2 hours, more free time did not increase well-being. And at around 5 hours of free time, self-reported well-being actually began to decline.

To investigate further, researchers also studied a dataset of American workers who were working between 1992 - 2008. Participants were asked how much free time they have during working days and their subjective well-being. Here, also, researchers found that more free time was linked to higher levels of well-being, but only up to a certain point.

As well as using real data, two online experiments were designed. 6000 participants were asked to imagine having a given amount of free time every day for six months. Subjects were randomly assigned to have a low (15 minutes per day), moderate (3.5 hours per day), or high (7 hours per day) amount of free time. Subjects in the low and high free time groups reported lower levels of well-being than those in the moderate group. Those in the low free time group felt stressed, but those in the high free time group felt less productive than their peers, which led to lower levels of well-being.

Researchers also looked into the role of productivity in another experiment. They found that participants were happier when they were doing something productive in their free time (for example exercising or spending time on hobbies), compared to when they spent their free time on unproductive activities (such as watching television or surfing the web).  

So what's the key takeaway from all this? Well, instead of dreaming about retiring and lying on a beach...

Why not create a life that you don't have to escape from?
Seth Godin

Science says that's the best way to do it!