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Gemma’s Gem of the Week: Investing in Time Affluence

Gemma’s Gem of the Week: Investing in Time Affluence

In Dr. Laurie Santos’s course, “The Science of Happiness,” Santos explores the following question – Is it the case that investing in time affluence could make us happier than we think? Mogilner et al. (2010) conducted a study where strangers in a cafe were asked to unscramble words related to time and money. They were measured in how they spent their time in the coffee shop, then later asked where their happiness levels fell on a scale of 1-5. It turns out that those thinking and discussing the topic of money landed on an average happiness level of 3.53, whereas those discussing time had an average happiness level of 4.17.

Time Affluence: Feeling like you have enough time to do the things you actually want to do (including doing nothing) without feeling strapped for time.

Those discussing time were more prone to socializing, developing new connections, and enjoying their overall stay in the cafe in a deeper capacity. As a result, their overall happiness levels increased. I recently visited a local Starbucks and was met with the warmest barista I’d chatted to in a while. He struck up a friendly conversation with my mother and I, going on to compliment our styles by saying, “You both look so fantastic!” While we were checking out, he then said, “Here. Because you are both so kind with such great fashion taste, the drinks are on me. Just listen for the name Mike.” His kindness left my mother and I even happier than we were prior to coming in, which carried throughout the remainder of the day (and honestly made the drinks taste even better.)

Think about a meaningful experience you had in a coffee shop or another social environment. Maybe the barista complimented your outfit, or vice-versa. Perhaps you had a short, yet impactful conversation with a stranger. During these experiences, our minds are more focused in the present, therefore making us more prone to indulging and savoring the moment more.

Mind-wandering: a shift in the contents of thought away from an ongoing task and/or from events in the external environment to self-generated thoughts and feelings

According to Killingsworth and Gilbert (2010), our minds wander 46.9% of the time. That means that when we have a task at hand, odds are our minds are ruminating on a handful of other things outside of these tasks. As someone who has a very active imagination, I can relate to mind wandering and struggling to maintain a consistent sense of focus immensely. Here’s a glimpse of the thoughts swimming inside my brain as I write this article:

“Man, that toffee chocolate from Trader Joe’s was good! Are people even going to care about this article, or is this all just a pretentious jumble of words? I need to shower soon. My eyes feel sleepy – but it’s only 8:30pm, goddammit! I’m thirsty. But I don’t feel like getting up to get a glass of water – oh wait, there’s a glass of water right next to me on my nightstand…yay.”

And the list just keeps going, and going, and going. However, mind wandering is a cognitive achievement; in other words, we can be proud that we can get out of our own heads. But the fact of the matter is whether or not this activation of our default network is making us feel as good as we think. Killingsworth and Gilbert kept this in mind during their studies, while conducting a survey with 2250 people, asking them “What are you doing? Are you thinking about what you’re currently doing?” They found that people’s minds wander 30% of the time in all activities, with the exception of intimacy (bow chicka-bow-wow). In all seriousness, the beauty here reflects our desire to be fully immersed in the present moment, and studies have shown that it is absolutely possible to achieve this.

Meditation and yoga are included in the list of healthy practices that allow us to be more present and grounded. Brewer et al. (2011) interviewed expert meditators who devoted over 10,000 hours to various meditation practices, and found that meditators experience more connectivity that lasted outside of the meditation. Through changing their default practices, results also showed an increase of focus during their daily lives. The same applies to exercising. Hillman et al. (2000) found that exercising not only contributes to physical wellbeing, but mental well-being, and the overall quality of one’s life.

Sadly, the physical benefits and stigmas surrounding exercise can greatly overshadow the immense mental, psychological benefits. I can’t speak for anyone other than myself, but personally, exercising and movement has contributed greatly in my journey navigating anxiety and depression. I’m able to channel these emotions into a healthy outlet that allows me to feel through and honor them, while coming out stronger on the other side. Through investing in time affluence and healthy practices, we can actively change our default practices and habits to discover an increased quality of life.

“And so the upshot is that thinking about time and sort of investing in time affluence is going to make you happier at least in part because it’s going to make you more social. It’s going to make you realize that what you want to be doing with your time isn’t doing all the stuff you need to do to earn money. It’s just doing fun things and interacting with others.” – Dr. Laurie Santos.


Gemma Farquhar is the writer of "Gemma's Gem of the Week" and author of "The Shape of Something New." She is passionate about the future of storytelling and welcomes all ages to her column.

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