Given the choice between more time or more money, which would you pick? For a beach vacation, you might pay more for a direct flight to gain a couple of extra hours getting sand between your toes. On the other hand, you might take a better-paying job that requires late nights at the office.
Which would lead to greater happiness — the money or the time?
We put this question to more than 4,000 Americans of different ages, income levels, occupations and marital and parental status. We found that most people valued money more than time.
Is money the right choice? We had also asked our survey respondents to report their level of happiness and life satisfaction. We found that the people who chose time were on average statistically happier and more satisfied with life than the people who chose money.
So money may turn out to be the wrong choice. But maybe this result simply shows that the people who chose money are more financially constrained and therefore less happy.
We found that even when we held constant the amount of leisure time and money respondents had, the people who chose time over money were still happier.
Our research isn’t claiming that having more of either resource is better or worse for happiness. But our research does show that the value individuals place on these resources relative to each other is predictive of happiness.
In our pursuit of happiness, we are constantly faced with decisions both big and small that force us to pit time against money. Of course, sometimes it’s not a choice at all: We must earn that extra pay to make ends meet. But when it is a choice, the likelihood of choosing more time over more money — despite the widespread tendency to do the opposite — is a good sign you’ll enjoy the happiness you seek.