Road and Track ranked Washington, D.C., as the eleventh worst city for drivers in 2018. For those who live in the nation’s capital or have visited, the question in their minds is probably “just eleventh?” The area’s terrible traffic stretches for miles and miles outside of D.C. proper as commuters ploddingly make their way to and from their giant, suburban houses. Spending hours upon hours in traffic each week in order to have a larger house is the norm in most major cities, yet the extra money earned working in urban markets as well the time spent on the roads produces less happiness than the time that they’ve lost would’ve provided.
Researchers who study “time poverty” are clear in their assertions that time has become our society’s most valuable (yet scarce) resource, even though it doesn’t have to be that way. Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Ashley Whillans explains:
A preponderance of evidence shows that the feeling of having enough time — “time affluence” — is now at a record low in the United States. When my team and I analyzed a survey of 2.5 million Americans by the Gallup Organization, we found that 80% of respondents did not have the time to do all they wanted to each day. This situation is so severe it could even be described as a “famine” — a collective cultural failure to effectively manage our most precious resource, time.
The sad irony is that time poverty actually accounts for billions in lost revenue. Lowering efficiency among workers, the expectation to work longer hours is a negative for the economy. Likewise, time poverty is a drain on our health. Whillans points out in her article that “public health officials rank it as one of the top contributors to rising obesity. Researchers put the health care costs of time stress at $48 billion a year.”
Crossing all socio-economic levels, the article reveals that time poverty’s havoc doesn’t discriminate:
Research shows that those who feel time-poor experience lower levels of happiness and higher levels of anxiety, depression, and stress. They experience less joy. They laugh less. They exercise less and are less healthy. Their productivity at work is diminished. They are more likely to get divorced. And in our analysis of the Gallup survey data, my team and I even found that time stress had a stronger negative effect on happiness than being unemployed did.
Whillans’ most important conclusion is that we tend to use our time to get more money instead of on things that will actually provide us with more happiness. The reality is that we actually have more time to spend than previous societies. Our lives are filled with time-saving devices. Sadly, though, instead of investing that time in things like relationships and learning, we use it to increase our bank accounts. Our time poverty is actually a product of our decisions. Yet, as Whillans points out, “Our thinking is backward. In fact, research consistently shows that the happiest people use their money to buy time.”
We are fortunate to live in a time and place filled with luxuries and conveniences that greatly aid in our having free time. Instead of using that time to accumulate more money and stuff, we should be using it to enjoy our friends and family.