This is how much free time you need every day to be happy

Most of us believe that if we have lots of free time during the day to do what we want we’ll be happier. This study claims otherwise, and quantifies the amount of free time you need to be happier.

 Happy businessman (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Happy businessman
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)

There comes a moment in your day when you think about the tasks facing you, at home or at work, versus the free time you have left. At this moment you can stress out or let a sense of despair overcome you. But, a new study has found that your workload may actually be good for you. 

According to the study, too much free time won’t really make you happier.

In a new study, researchers analyzed data from two large-scale surveys on how people in America spend their time. Together, the surveys had more than 35,000 respondents. Researchers found that people with more free time usually have higher levels of subjective well-being, but only up to a certain point.

People who had up to two free hours a day generally reported feeling better than those who had less time. But people who had five hours or more of free time a day usually said they felt worse. 

In the end, an average of two to three hours a day is probably the ideal amount of free time to meet a person’s needs.

"Most people have too little free time, but too much free time isn’t always better," Professor Marissa Sharif, a marketing expert at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and lead author of the study, said in a press release.

(Credit: Ingimage)(Credit: Ingimage)

Time is important, but so is how you fill it.

In addition to the survey analysis, the researchers also conducted some smaller online experiments. 

In one they asked participants to imagine that they had 3.5 to seven free hours a day. They were asked to imagine that they were spending this time in "productive" activities (such as physical activity) or to imagine that they were doing "non-productive" activities (such as watching television). Study participants believed that their well-being would be harmed if they had a lot of free time during the day only if they didn’t actively engage in an activity.

In other words, how people spend their free time is important, but what feels "productive" depends on each person.

"If watching two hours of 'Real Housewives’ in your free time increases your happiness, you must do so,” Sharif said. “The point of all this is self-care, not shame.

"In cases where people do find themselves with excessive amounts of time, following retirement or leaving work," she added, "our results show that these people will benefit from spending their new, increased free time with a purpose."