Each year, millions of graduates are faced with decisions about trade-offs between time and money as they plan their future. Despite the importance of these choices, we know surprisingly little about how people navigate major life decisions (such as accepting a new job) that involve making more money at the expense of having less time, and vice versa. So we set out to study how people’s priorities shaped their career choices and happiness after graduation.
We asked more than 1,000 college students from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver whether they generally prioritized time or money more. We also had them report their happiness by answering questions like “How satisfied are you with your life overall?”
We then followed up with the students within two years of graduation and asked them to report their current happiness, the primary activity that was taking up most of their time and the reason they were doing this activity.
What we found was that students who prioritized time were happier than those who prioritized money. Even when we accounted for how happy students were when they started our study, those who valued time were happier and more satisfied with their lives and careers one to two years after graduation.
Our results provide strong evidence that valuing time puts people on a trajectory toward job satisfaction and well-being.
Decisions about time and money are present in all of our lives. Sometimes we can’t choose between them: We might be forced, for various reasons, to accept a better-paying job and give up some socializing time. Society needs to work harder to make us all feel like we have the choice to prioritize time over money. However, when we do have the ability to choose which resource to prioritize, the data is clear: Valuing time is likely to bring us greater joy.
(Written by Ashley Whillans, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School.)