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Does working more (or less) make you happier?

April 12th, 2014 by

A paradox that might surprise you...


The more hours you spend working, the more hours you might want to spend working. It’s a paradox that may help us understand why achieving the ideal work-life balance remains ever elusive. 

To each their own

Here’s why: The ideal work-life balance is dramatically different for each of us; and it has nothing to do with our preferences.

Rather, and perhaps a bit surprisingly, it has far more to do with how many hours we actually spend working. 

Certainly, the conditioning inherent in hourly wages, salary bonuses, and the promise that “long hours pay off” might have many of us seeing money and time as interchangeable commodities. However, money and time are not, in fact, interchangeable - merely exchangeable. 

Further, it’s a transaction that requires a kind of control over our perception of that which we find satisfying. 

Is it worth your time?

According to a study by Professor Sanford DeVoe and PhD student Julian House, people who think about their time in terms of money can no longer enjoy the idea of (literally) free time; if their time isn’t fetching coin, it’s not worth it.

The study separated groups of participants, conditioning one group to think of their time in monetary terms. They then asked them to perform an array of leisurely activities without pay. The conditioned showed “greater impatience and lower satisfaction” than the group not asked to think of their time in terms of money.

However, when asked to perform the same activities - but this time, with pay - the same participants reported “more enjoyment and less impatience.”

Time is money

On the one hand, we should be mindful of the impact that thinking of time in terms of money can have on our overall life satisfaction and happiness. This thinking can change the way we “actually experience time,” noted researcher DeVoe.

On the other hand, let’s consider another angle: Long hours pay off financially, but perhaps in a greater sense for some. Working long hours may thus be the key to living happier for these individuals.

Case in point: Last year, some Wall Street firms gave their analysts their lives back - Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse told analysts to stay away from work on Saturdays and Merrill Lynch told its analysts to make sure to take four weekend days off a month (how generous of them).

A hard day’s night

But not all analysts (if any) were sold.

In the finance world in particular, those who work longer hours are promised higher pay, higher status, and bigger bonuses. Thirty years ago, the lowest-paid worked the longest days. By 2006, the opposite was true.

Socially, we support the premise behind the shift: she who works all day is an idol; she who frolics all day has no ambition. Working longer hours illustrates dedication - and also intensifies it. 

Working happy

The Harvard Business School conducted a survey of more than 1,000 professionals in 2008 and found that 94 percent worked 50 hours or more a week - and near half worked more than 65 hours each week. If the study noted earlier can offer any indication, we might guess the 103 surplus hours they were left with in the week (save for hours spent sleeping) left them terrifically unsatisfied.

“Overwork has become a credential of prosperity,” wrote the author for The New Yorker.

How's that for satisfying?

Jun 26 2017 12:16am

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