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Why No One Should Be Too Busy to Socialize

Research on time poverty, and how to overcome it.

Key points

  • Time poverty is a growing trend that negatively affects our well-being and our relationships.
  • Time poverty is more perception than reality.
  • Research-based solutions to time poverty include buying time, giving time away, and doing less.

This post, co-authored with Dr. Jaime Kurtz.

Do you feel like there are too many things to do in a day, and not enough time to do them? If so, you’re experiencing what researchers call time poverty. And it’s not just you. In a recent survey, 80 percent of working Americans reported that they “never had enough time.” Interestingly, though, careful studies of how Americans use their time suggest that time poverty might be more of a perception than a reality. We actually have more free time than we did about 50 years ago (on average) and yet we feel busier than ever.

Time poverty is a sign of the times. The standard reply to “How are you?” is often, “I’m so busy!” Many people find it increasingly difficult to carve out time to see friends, pursue a hobby, or take a vacation. Some people even brag about how busy they are because it’s become a status symbol. It makes us feel important somehow.

Yet, research suggests that time poverty is associated with higher levels of depression, anxiety, and stress. And, when we’re feeling short on time, we’re less likely to give it to others—depriving us of the social connection that’s so important for our health and happiness.

Fortunately, research shows that there are specific steps we can take to feel more time affluent—and more socially connected. Here are a few:

Strategy #1: Buy time.

Research shows that spending money to free up time (a practice called buying time) can reduce time stress, boost happiness, and improve your relationships.

If you want a satisfying social life, buy time for it. You might pay to outsource a disliked chore, get a direct flight instead of a cheaper one with a layover, or pay a toll to drive the fastest route home. Then, invest your windfall of free time in something socially engaging—like calling a friend or hanging out with your kids.

If you value money over time, or you want to maintain the impression that you “have it all together,” you might hate the idea of making a time-saving purchase. Or you might think that buying time is just for the wealthy. Just keep in mind that research shows that people who are willing to trade money for time are happier and more satisfied with their relationships. And buying time is a practice that benefits people at all income levels.

Strategy #2. Give time.

Another way to get more time is to give it away. In one study, researchers asked people to devote part of their Saturday morning to doing something for themselves that they weren’t already planning to do—or doing something for someone else. The people who gave away their time later felt like they had more of it. It turns out that helping others expands our sense of time.

Other research shows that helping others—by volunteering in the community, providing social support to a friend, or performing a random act of kindness for a stranger—can also increase our sense of connection.

Strategy #3. Do less.

If you have too many things to do and not enough time to do them, try to cut back on some things. You don’t have to keep up with the frenzied pace of the modern world. You can probably choose to slow down a little—and make more time for casual chats with co-workers and impromptu get-togethers with friends.

Research shows that most of us have an aversion to being idle, but that’s probably because we’ve been conditioned by a culture that’s obsessed with productivity, success, and wealth. Fortunately, there are signs that some Americans are craving a slower pace of life, setting more boundaries at work, spending less on material things, and scheduling their kids for fewer extracurriculars.

In the end, the choices we make with our time greatly affect our happiness and the quality of our social lives. What will you choose to do with yours?

Facebook/LinkedIn image: MMD Made my dreams/Shutterstock

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