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Need More Time? Try Giving Some Away

Female volunteers packing soup containers into crate in soup kitchen
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If you’re feeling time-crunched, take this test. It’s a lovely Saturday morning. You’ve had a crazy week and you have two options for your day. Option number one: getting a massage. Option number two: cutting your elderly neighbor’s grass. It’s a no-brainer, right? You choose the massage. Duh.

But wait. The massage is more relaxing, but you’ll feel less time-constrained if you mow your neighbor’s lawn. Why? People who help others feel like they have more time — a condition known as “time affluence” — than those who don’t, according to a study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University and Yale University.

In one of four experiments for the study, people who spent 30 minutes focusing on someone else — whether shoveling snow or picking up litter — felt like they had more time than the group who indulged in personal pleasures.

“When people give their time to other, it makes them feel effective,” says lead author Cassie Mogilner Holmes, professor of marketing at UCLA Anderson School of Management. “Those who gave their time away felt like they accomplished a lot, so they perceived themselves as having more time.”

A similar time-bending phenomenon can occur when we experience a sense of awe. In a study published in Psychological Science, subjects who wrote about a personal experience that evoked awe or who were exposed to wow-inducing footage — such as the Grand Canyon — felt like they had more time. Awe changes how we perceive time, the researchers found, creating the sense that it is slowing down.

Buying time can also make you happier. People experience greater satisfaction with life when they spend money on time-saving services such as housecleaning and cooking, rather than on material goods, one study shows.

So how much extra time do we need to feel happy? About an hour a day, according to Holmes’ research. “Once you pass an hour, happiness levels out,” she says. And if you want to feel time affluent instead of time deficient? Do something nice for someone.

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This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide any expert, professional or specialty advice or recommendations. Readers are urged to consult with their medical providers for all questions.

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