Too Much Free Time
Discretionary Time and Subjective Well-Being
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | September 13, 2021
Too much free time can negatively impact subjective well being.
We are crunched, always rushing from jobs to obligations, and putting out unplanned fires. We are forced to squeeze too many activities into too little time to keep up with the frenzied pace of modern life. A poll revealed nearly half of Americans report not having enough time to do what they want (Newport 2016). We are time stressed and the pressure negatively impacts wellness. Yet, studies have discovered that ample free time is not the entire answer. When people have too much free time, there is a diminishing return, eventually not only leveling off but actually having a negative impact on subjective well being. For our wellness, we want free time but not too much of it.
There is no exact amount of discretionary time designated for maximal benefits. Life is too complex and the need for free time varies between individual and from moment to moment. Several factors influence optimum allocation of time for wellness. Some of these factors are personality traits, job stress, productive use of time, and time devoted to socializing. The ideal use of discretionary time should sufficiently rejuvenate and rest aching bodies and mind, without flooding with bored isolation and robbing from productive engagement in essential responsibilities.
Discretionary Time is time available to pursue activities of our choosing. Typically, this is time available for socializing, hobbies, relaxing and leisure.
A common symptom of too little free time is burnout. Our bodies and minds physically exhaust when recuperative time is neglected. We need free time to honor other essential needs of personal development. Our careers and obligations can overwhelm our systems, draining vitality. Time designated to socializing, engaging in hobbies, and rest prevents burnout.
U-Shaped Time Study Results
Recent research on discretionary time discovered that increased free time is associated with well being but only up to a point. As free time increases, eventually the benefit crests and begins to negatively impact subjective wellness (Sharif, Mogilner, & Hershfield 2021).
Our wellness depends on a variety of fulfillments. Rest being only one of the needs. A few notable needs are a sense of meaning, a feeling of importance, security and supportive relationships. When primary areas of need are neglected, we suffer. Employment and meaningful commitments provide fulfillment to some of these needs.
When free time becomes wasteful, it is detrimental to subjective well being.
The law of diminishing returns applies to free time. At first, freedom from time demands is delicious, exciting our soul, but as time passes, the delight diminishes and the joys subside. Excessive access to discretionary time leads to savoring the freedom less and less. Having unlimited time to do anything we want begins to lose its positive impact on happiness.
Books of Interest
Effective Use of Discretionary Time
Discretionary time can be used on productive or wasteful ways. The more productively we use our free time, the more free time can contribute to wellness.
Not all discretionary time equally benefits our wellness. Doing nothing, for instance, only serves basic needs to rest, once our bodies are rested the nothingness drains our minds and bodies of vitality. We need more from life than a sofa, television, and bag of chips.
Variety is key to wellness. We must engage our minds and bodies on multiple fronts. Some time can be devoted tp physical wellness, other time given to socializing and important relationships, and some time reserved for meaningful activities of serving others and personal development. The productive devoting of time on multiple fronts prevents boredom, exciting our souls with lifting engagements.
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Newport, F. (2016) The Gallup Poll: Public Opinion 2015. Rowan & Littlefield Publishers.
Sharif, M., Mogilner, C., & Hershfield, H. (2021). Having Too Little or Too Much Time Is Linked to Lower Subjective Well-Being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, OnlineFirst, 1