In today’s busy world of work obligations and family responsibilities, free time can feel like an impossible luxury. You may dream of having long, lazy days to whatever you enjoy. But as enjoyable as all that time may seem, it turns out that there can be too much of a good thing: Too much free time can actually be just as detrimental as too little.
As Cassie Holmes, a social psychologist at UCLA who studies the effects of free time on happiness levels, recently wrote for CNBC, although “being ‘time poor’ makes us more depressed, stressed, and emotionally exhausted,” having too much free time “undermines one’s sense of purpose.”
There is an ideal amount of free time
As Holmes and her colleagues discovered, there is an approximate ideal amount of free time that corresponds to an overall high level of life satisfaction. To study this correlation, they looked at a dataset of 35,375 Americans that included information about the average amount of free time they had. It tracked the time they had for leisure activities like reading, watching TV, spending time with friends, or just relaxing, and compared it to their overall satisfaction with life.
As they found out, people who were most satisfied with life had somewhere between two to five hours of free time a day; those who had less than two hours were more stressed, and those who had more than five hours also reported dissatisfaction.
As the authors wrote, “Ample time for discretionary activities may have a diminishing effect on people’s enjoyment of those activities,” as “people are prone to hedonic adaptation, making them grow accustomed not only to life’s pains but also to life’s pleasures.” If we have too little of a good thing, we get burnt out and unhappy, but if we have too much of a good thing, we start viewing it as nothing special, robbing us of the joy we might feel, when it’s in a more moderate quantity.
How you spend your free time matters
As Holmes advises, spending your free time wisely can help make it more meaningful, which is especially important if you are crunched for time. Some of her suggestions include regular movement, such as walking, hiking, or taking a fitness class; taking the time to do small acts of kindness; finding ways to experience awe by spending time in nature or at an art museum; or spending meaningful time with people you love.