Excessive amount of leisure time can also be detrimental: Study

Excessive amount of leisure time can also be detrimental
Excessive amount of leisure time can also be detrimental

According to a new study published by the American Psychological Association, as an individual’s free time increases, his or her sense of well-being increases as well, but only to a point. According to the research, having an excessive amount of leisure time can also be detrimental.

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published the study.

“While people frequently complain about being too busy and wishing for more time, is more time actually associated with greater happiness? We discovered that a lack of discretionary hours in one’s day results in increased stress and decreased subjective well-being,” said Marissa Sharif, PhD, an assistant professor of marketing at The Wharton School and the paper’s lead author. “However, although having too little time is undesirable, having too much time is not necessarily preferable.”

The researchers reviewed data from 21,736 Americans who participated in the 2012–2013 American Time Use Survey. The participants provided a thorough description of their activities over the preceding 24 hours, including the time of day and duration of each activity, as well as their sense of well-being.

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The researchers discovered that when free time grew, well-being climbed as well, but it peaked at around two hours and began to fall after that. Correlations were statistically significant in both directions.

Additionally, the researchers reviewed data from 13,639 working Americans who participated in the 1992–2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce.

Among the survey’s numerous questions, participants were asked about their discretionary time (e.g., “On average, on days when you work, how many hours [minutes] do you spend on your own free-time activities?”) and subjective well-being, as measured by life satisfaction (e.g., “All things considered, how do you feel about your life these days? Would you say you feel…”).

Once again, the researchers discovered that having more free time was associated with increased well-being, but only to a point. Following that, increased leisure time was not associated with increased well-being.

The researchers ran two online studies involving over 6,000 individuals to better study the phenomena. In the first experiment, participants were asked to envision themselves having a specified amount of discretionary time each day for at least six months.

Participants were randomly assigned to have a small quantity of discretionary time (15 minutes per day), a moderate amount (3.5 hours per day), or a large amount (7 hours per day). The participants were asked to rate their likelihood of experiencing enjoyment, happiness, and satisfaction.

Participants in the low and high discretionary time groups reported lower levels of well-being, respectively, than participants in the intermediate discretionary time group. The researchers discovered that those with little discretionary time felt more stressed than those with a moderate amount, which contributed to their lower well-being, while those with a lot of free time felt less productive than those with a moderate amount, which contributed to their lower well-being as well.

The second experiment examined the possible role of productivity. Participants were asked to imagine having either a moderate (3.5 hours) or a large (7 hours) amount of free time per day, but also to imagine spending that time engaging in either productive (e.g., working out, hobbies, or running) or unproductive (e.g., watching television) or unproductive activities (e.g., watching television or using the computer).

The researchers discovered that when people with greater free time engaged in unproductive activities, they reported lower levels of well-being. When engaged in productive activities, people with greater free time felt comparable to those with moderate free time.

“While our research focused on the association between discretionary time and subjective well-being, our subsequent examination of how individuals spend their discretionary time was illuminating,” Sharif explained.

“Our findings suggest that having entire days free to spend however one wishes may leave one similarly unhappy,” he continued. “Instead, people should strive for having a moderate amount of free time to spend however they wish. In cases where people do end up with excessive amounts of discretionary time, such as retirement or having left a job, our findings suggest that these individuals will be similarly unhappy.”


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