Research into the ways that people can feel less time-pressed and more time-affluent suggests that the answer lies in focusing attention on the present and away from the self.
In the 1990s, researchers came up with the phrase “time famine” to describe the feeling many Americans have of feeling overwhelmed by work obligations and the general pace of life.
According to “The Quest for the 25-Hour Day,” in the Boston Globe, this feeling has a powerful role in people’s underlying happiness: “If time famine can create a state of rolling personal crisis, studies have shown that feeling ‘time affluent’ can be powerfully uplifting, more so than material wealth.”
But according to two new studies published in Psychological Science, people don’t need to change jobs or make other drastic adjustments to feel more time-rich — they can, instead, essentially fool themselves into feeling more time-affluent by giving away time to others and by allowing more moments of simple awe.
Research into expanding time by donating it: “Zoë Chance, at the Yale University School of Management, and Michael I. Norton, at Harvard Business School, knew from earlier research that people who donated money felt wealthier than those who didn’t,” writes Keith O’Brien in the Globe. “Along with Cassie Mogilner, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, the group began to wonder if the same could possibly be true of time.”
Their research showed that, indeed, people who donated time by doing things for others felt more time affluent than people who got an unexpected amount of free time or who spent free time on themselves. “Spending time on another,” the paper says, “seemingly expanded the future.” Why? “By doing something for someone else, the researchers theorized, people seemed to feel effective and useful.”
Research into expanding time by paying attention to awe: Another group of researchers, psychological scientists Melanie Rudd and Jennifer Aaker of Stanford University Graduate School of Business and Kathleen Vohs of the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management, looked at the same question of what might make people feel more time-rich, but they focused on the role that a single emotion might have.
“I picked awe,” Rudd said in the Globe, “because this emotion has this powerful ability to captivate people’s attention on the present.”
Those researchers devised a way to study awe in the laboratory, according to a press release from Psychological Science. “Across three different experiments, they found that jaw-dropping moments made participants feel like they had more time available and made them more patient, less materialistic, and more willing to volunteer time to help others. The researchers found that the effects that awe has on decision-making and well-being can be explained by awe’s ability to actually change our subjective experience of time by slowing it down.”
The conclusion? As the Globe, puts it, “The term ‘time affluence’ only entered the lexicon in the last several years, and it remains, for the moment, a relatively young field of study. Still, researchers believe the new time affluence studies carry powerful lessons for those starved for time. The solution may be as simple as tweaking our busy lives to allow space for big emotions, like awe, or little tasks, like helping a neighbor.”