Buying Time

Researchers suggest that spending time helping others can help you feel “time affluent.”

alarm clock with smiley face

Too busy for your own good? Then it’s time to find an hour or two — and give them away.

A new study from researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, Yale and Harvard suggests that by sharing your time with others, you’ll feel as though you have more to spare.

Simple, selfless acts like making a meal for a friend, helping a teenager with homework or writing a letter to a sick child made hundreds of participants feel more “time affluent” than spending time on themselves or wasting time, the researchers found.

“When people feel like they don’t have enough time — as most of us do, most of the time — they’re reluctant to spend it helping others,” says Zoë Chance, PhD, a researcher at the Yale School of Management and coauthor of the study, forthcoming in the journal Psychological Science. But doing so, she asserts, may be among the best ways to feel less busy.

Chance and her colleagues hypothesize that the phenomenon has to do with feeling more useful. “For example, say you watch a friend’s kids for a couple of hours. After the kids go home, the task is complete, and you feel good about it,” she says. “But when you’re taking care of your own kids, the job is never done. When we feel very effective, it feels like a lot can be accomplished in a short amount of time, so time seems to expand.”

Tellingly, the study participants sometimes spent as little as 10 minutes helping others, but found small random acts of kindness as potent as large-scale altruistic projects. If you’re interested in giving a little to gain a lot, check out www.GoodDeedTime.com, a website set up by the research team, and sign up to get an email with one kindhearted task to accomplish each week.


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