Being busy all the time can be quite stressful. But researchers are proving that having tons of time isn’t the way to happiness, either.

“People often complain that they are so busy,” said researcher Marissa Sharif. “They would like to have more free time. But is more free time actually linked to more happiness?” It’s an interesting question. And researchers went in a new study looking for the answer.


In that search, the researchers analyzed questionnaires completed by 21,736 Americans between 2012 and 2013. The participants detailed what they had done in the past 24 hours — indicating the time and duration of each activity — and reported their sense of well-being. . The researchers found that as leisure time increased, well-being also increased. But up to a point. The participants’ well-being stabilized after about two hours of free time. And after five hours of free time, well-being even began to decline.

Another Questionnaire

The researchers decided to study even more surveys. This time that of 13,639 working Americans. The participants were asked about their amount of free time and how satisfied they were with their lives. It again led to the same conclusion: more free time leads to better well-being, but to a certain extent.

One more then…

In a final study, the team conducted two online experiments with more than 6,000 subjects. The participants had to imagine that they would have a certain amount of free time every day for at least six months. The first group had 15 minutes of free time a day, a second group 3.5 hours a day and the last group had seven hours of free time daily. The subjects were then asked to indicate the extent to which they would experience pleasure, happiness and satisfaction.

The findings can already be guessed. Participants who had both little and a lot of free time reported lower well-being than the middle group. Those with little free time felt more stressed than those with a more moderate amount of free time, contributing to lower well-being. But those with a lot of free time felt less productive, which made them less satisfied with their lives.

More free time is not the way to happiness

Although we sometimes say that we yearn for days when we don’t have to do anything for a while, the idea that this brings happiness is only an illusion. “People often look for ways to increase the amount of free time they have,” Sharif said in an interview with “It seems like we always want more. In that respect, it is therefore quite surprising that having more time to spend as you wish does not always promise more happiness.”


What exactly is that about? “People are afraid to do nothing,” Sharif says when asked. “They are also seen as happier when they are engaged in a certain task. Bustle has also become a status symbol; a sign of competence and ambition.”

“Business has become a status symbol; a sign of competence and ambition”

In addition, people with a lot of free time often lack a sense of productivity. They lack a purpose in their lives. In addition, it appears that people who have a lot of free time but then spend this time unproductively (such as watching television or using the computer) feel less satisfied than people who also have a lot of free time, but then spend this time productively (such as sports, running or busy). with a hobby), as the experiments showed.


According to the researcher, it is therefore ultimately a matter of a delicate balance. Both too much and too little free time can leave us feeling quite dejected, even though your feeling beforehand may sometimes contradict this. “Given the virtues of moderation and the desire to be productive, it’s perhaps not surprising that too much of anything – even free time – doesn’t make people happier,” concludes Sharif. Future research should show exactly what that balance should be. “Based on the findings of our study, we cannot make any concrete recommendations about this,” Sharif says. “However, the correlation data in Studies 1 and 2 suggest that people are happiest when they have between two and five hours of free time. From that point it goes downhill. The results of the experimental studies show that people with seven hours of free time experience less well-being than people with 3.5 hours of free time. But future studies should determine more precisely what the optimal amount is.”


While the study initially focused on the extent to which leisure time is linked to happiness, the additional exploration into exactly how people spend their free time is revealing. “For many of us who feel we don’t have enough time, the answer is not to give up all commitments,” Sharif underlines. “Our findings suggest that taking whole days off as you see fit can make someone equally unhappy. Instead, we should aim for a moderate amount of free time.”

For those who are ‘forced’ with a lot of free time, such as retirees or people who have lost their jobs, Sharif also has a tip. “They will benefit from using their free time usefully,” she says. “Think about doing something productive (exercise, running, a hobby), or connect with others.”