Boost Your Happiness By Spending More Time on What Matters Most

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We’ve all been in this situation: There aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done – let alone do it well, let alone enjoy it. 

Cassie Holmes, a professor at the UCLA Anderson School of Management and author of Happier Hour: How to Beat Distraction, Expand Your Time, and Focus on What Matters Most, felt that keenly while commuting to work and racing home to spend time with her partner and child. 

“I wanted more time, not just so I could get more done,” she says. “I wanted more time to slow down and experience and enjoy the hours I was spending. I wanted more time so that life didn’t seem to be perpetually going by in this speedy blur. And I know now that what I felt was what we refer to in the literature as time poverty. It’s this acute feeling of having too much to do and insufficient time to do it.” 

Her discomfort was so profound that she considered quitting her dream job to have more free time. But then a question occurred to her: Are people who have more time happier? 

So, like a good researcher, she searched for answers – among other things, looking at data from the American Time Use Survey, which tracks the daily activities of thousands of Americans, both working and non-working. 

The study aimed to understand the relationship between discretionary or free time and happiness. The findings revealed that people with too little discretionary time (less than approximately two hours) reported lower happiness levels due to increased stress. 

But surprisingly, those with excessive discretionary time (more than five hours) also reported lower happiness levels. 

“When we spend all of the hours of our days with nothing to show for how we spent that time, it undermines our sense of purpose,” Holmes says. “It makes us feel less satisfied. So this is a warning for those crazy days when we’re thinking about quitting. The answer is no. Don’t quit the work that you love.” 

What you need to do, Holmes recommends, is identify your goals. What are those things that are important to you? Put those into your schedule first. 

The bottom line: “It’s really about prioritizing what matters to you,” Holmes says.

Cassie Holmes

Cassie Holmes spoke at the 2023 California Conference for Women. This article is based on her talk.