Happiness: Spending our time wisely

What are our goals in life? How do we allocate our time? It may seem obvious, but the activities that make up our day have a substantial impact on our level of happiness. Yet despite this, many people waste their days on activities that they do not enjoy, and that are often unnecessary.

Research by Shkade et al (published in Science) surveyed the daily activities of 909 employed women. Many were surprised at the amount of time spent on activities that they didn’t like. Now clearly we must often engage in unpleasant activities whether we like it or not. For example, dentist appointments are a necessary evil (unless you are prepared to accept far more unpleasantness in the long run). However, there many activities that we do have a choice in. Do we work longer hours and get higher pay? Do we spend time with friends or time alone? Do we watch TV or go for a run? These are the activities that define our days, and they have a major impact on our well-being.

The classic example of a misguided goal is the pursuit of wealth. Studies consistently show that wealth has only a small impact on happiness, and yet people pursue it with a fervour. On the other hand, engaging in volunteer work, spending time with family and friends, or taking the time to exercise, can often be highly correlated with happiness. Perhaps this would be a better use of our time?

Different activities will be suited to different people – it is up to us to find what suits us best. However, a restructuring of our day and shifting of priorities can bring much more enjoyment into our lives. We should resolve to reflect on what activities do make us happy, and we should then make an effort to increase them. As part of this, we may need to question our long-term goals – such as the pursuit of wealth – and ask how well these goals serve us. This may seem like basic advice that should be given to a child, but it is advice that almost everyone ignores. We often wish for more time or energy – perhaps we can make better use of what we have.

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