fordCecilia Ford, who has been a psychologist in private practice in New York City since 1987, has addressed emotional issues for Women’s Voices in many articles over the years.

 

When I was a child, I was puzzled by the idea that the New Year came in January since it seemed to me that everything new started in the fall. Children’s lives are dominated by the school calendar, and the three months between one grade and another devoted to summer vacation can seem endless. Going back to school in the fall after all that time, I felt like a different person. Given the rate at which children grow, that was true in some ways.

As adults our sense of time speeds up, as our rate of growth slows down. Our cells don’t divide as fast, for example, (which is why it is sometimes less dangerous for an older person to have cancer than it is for a younger one). Meanwhile, for many  adults, the fall does not bring a new year but the same year as the last. But as the bite of fall hits the air, that sense of renewal is still detectable, and with a little encouragement, we can capitalize on it to make positive changes. And the one wish that seems to underlie most people’s goals is to be happier.

Whether your goal is to lose weight, get a promotion, or meet a new romantic partner, the reason behind these goals is usually that we believe it will make us happier. It turns out, however, that we are not always good judges of what will make us happy or unhappy. Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard professor,  describes his research into this phenomenon in his book Stumbling on Happiness. He found that the correlation between what subjects expect will make them happy vs. what actually does make them happy to be surprisingly low.

A recent article in The New York Times looked more specifically into this issue: what brings greater happiness, time or money? Researchers Hal E. Hershfield  and Cassie Mogilner Holmes asked this question of more than 4,000 subjects of diverse income levels, ages, etc., and found that 64 percent chose money. However, when asked about their levels of life satisfaction, the respondents who chose time scored higher. This held true “even when we held constant the amount of leisure time and money respondents had (as well as their age, gender, marital status, parental status and the extent to which they valued material possessions), the people who chose time over money were still happier … taking two people who were otherwise the same, the one who chose time over money would be happier than the one who chose money over time.”

Thus, someone who is considering taking a high stress job with long hours to raise his income may reason that the extra money will bring more life satisfaction. That may not necessarily be true. While many studies indicate that money can increase happiness, especially when it has been scarce, these researchers found a more complex picture:

“. . . Our research does show that the value individuals place on these resources relative to each other is predictive of happiness.

Why? The people in our studies who chose time over money thought about the resources differently and had different intentions for how they would spend the time or money gained. Unlike those who chose money, who were more likely to be fixated on not having enough, people who chose time focused more on how they would spend it, planning to “spend” on wants rather than needs (e.g., cultivating a hobby versus completing chores at home) and on other people rather than themselves — two expenditures that have previously been linked to elevated levels of happiness.”

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