Gross Domestic Happiness: What Is the Relationship between Money and Well-being?
Time on Your Mind
Cassie Mogilner, a Wharton marketing professor, studies precisely this issue. Her research focuses on the relationship between time and happiness, and looks at how a person's decision to think in terms of time -- rather than money -- can influence him or her to spend time in happier ways.
In a series of experiments, Mogilner analyzed what happened when participants thought about time, even fleetingly or subconsciously, and whether or not it had an effect on their behavior and happiness. The first experiment took place online. Participants were given scrambled word tasks that exposed them to time-related, money-related, or neutral words, and were asked to create as many sentences as possible with those words in three minutes. (Those primed with time-related terms were given phrases that included words such as "clock," "days" and "hours"; whereas those primed with money-related vocabulary were given words like "wealth," "price" and "cash".)
After that, participants were asked to complete an ostensibly unrelated questionnaire about how they planned to spend the next 24 hours, which also asked them to rate how happy those activities made them. Those who had been primed with time words said they would spend more time socializing with family and friends and engaging in intimate relations -- activities that also provided them with more happiness. But those who had been primed with money words said they would spend more time working or commuting -- activities associated with the least amount of happiness.
A second experiment was set at a café popular with college students. As students entered the café, they were asked to do the same word scramble where they were primed with time-related, money-related, or neutral words. They were then told to go about their business. Unbeknownst to them, however, there was a researcher in the café observing their behavior, looking to see whether they were chatting on the phone, texting and talking to people at the café, or working on their computer or reading for school.
Similar to the first study, those who had been primed with time words were more apt to be socializing, whereas those who had been primed with money words were more apt to be working, Mogilner says. When students left the café they were asked to rate their happiness levels at that moment; those who had spent more time socializing were happier than those who had spent more time working. The results of her research are described in a paper published in the journal Psychological Science, titled "The Pursuit of Happiness: Time, Money, and Social Connection" (PDF).
The obvious conclusion is that we all need to spend more time socializing with friends and loved ones in order to be happier, right? Not necessarily, according to Mogilner. "I'm not saying that people should stop working. Work is a great source of personal fulfillment for many people," she says. "But my research indicates that family and social relationships are worth fostering in addition to one's career. On the margins of one's day -- when you're thinking about putting in an extra hour at the office versus going home to spend time with your family or heading out to meet up with friends -- you might opt for the latter to bring you more happiness."
Published January 19, 2011