Well-Being

Scientists find too much free time is bad for you

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Story at a glance

  • A study published by the American Psychological Association found that an individual’s sense of well-being increases as their amount of free time increases.
  • But that’s only up to a certain point.
  • Those with too much time on their hands experienced a drop in overall well-being.

New research suggests there may be a sweet spot when it comes to how much free time a person should have each day. 

A study published by the American Psychological Association in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that an individual’s sense of well-being increases as their amount of free time increases, but only up to a point. 

In fact, too much free time could result in a drop of a person’s subjective well-being due to a lack of productivity. 

“People often complain about being too busy and express wanting more time. But is more time actually linked to greater happiness? We found that having a dearth of discretionary hours in one’s day results in greater stress and lower subjective well-being,” Marissa Sharif, assistant professor of marketing at The Wharton School and lead author of the study, said in a statement.

“However, while too little time is bad, having more time is not always better,” Sharif said. 

Researchers analyzed results from two surveys including more than 35,000 respondents. 

The American Time Use survey conducted between 2012 and 2013 asked respondents to detail what they did the prior day and report their sense of well-being. The survey found well-being rose along with more free time, but leveled off around the two-hour mark and began to drop after five hours. 

Data from the National Study of the Changing Workforce conducted between 1992 and 2008 also revealed higher levels of free time were associated with greater well-being, but leveled off up to a point. 

Researchers behind the recent study carried out their own online experiments involving more than 6,000 respondents. Participants were asked to imagine having 15 minutes, 3.5 hours or up to seven hours of free time each day for at least six months and report how much enjoyment, happiness and satisfaction they may experience. 

Respondents with just 15 minutes of free time experienced more stress and lower well-being. Those with seven hours said their well-being was significantly lower as a result of feeling less productive. 


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A second experiment asked participants to imagine spending their free time doing productive activities, such as working out or practicing hobbies, as well as unproductive tasks like watching TV. 

Those with high levels of free time reported lower levels of well-being when involved in unproductive activities, but when engaged in productive tasks, they felt similar to those with a moderate amount of discretionary time. 

“Our findings suggest that ending up with entire days free to fill at one’s discretion may leave one similarly unhappy. People should instead strive for having a moderate amount of free time to spend how they want,” Sharif said. 

Researchers said people with large amounts of free time, such as retirees, would benefit from spending their time with purpose. 


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