Want More Time? Give It Away!

by Wendy Philleo


Do you feel “time affluent”? Are there more hours in the day than you know what to do with? Not many of us would answer yes. 

For me, most days are stretched thin after getting up early to exercise, making breakfast and two lunches, mapping out the day with my husband, figuring out after-school activities and pickup-dropoff for my children, finding the lost water bottle and scattered library books, taking the kids to school, figuring out what needs to be defrosted or picked up later for dinner, and so on. And that’s just the morning, before I head to my home office and get to work.

I’m extremely fortunate in having both a flexible schedule and a 50-50 partner in my husband for household and child care. Most Americans don’t have it that easy. Many of us feel squeezed by the endless demands placed upon us. So it’s surprising to read that you’ll feel less rushed if you give time away. New research out of the University of Pennsylvania shows that helping others can make us feel less time-constrained. 

The study found that when people spent time assisting others—for example, helping to edit the essays of at-risk high school students—they were more likely to say they currently had some time to spare and that their futures felt “infinite.” As researcher Cassie Mogilner explains, “people who give time [to help others] feel more capable, confident and useful. They feel they’ve accomplished something and, therefore, that they can accomplish more in the future. And this self-efficacy make them feel that time is more expansive.”

We often forget the importance of time in our lives, and how it’s often more critical to life satisfaction than money. (See New Dream board member Juliet Schor’s work on advocating for a shorter work week.) But more importantly, we often forget the obvious fact that how we spend our time can have a huge impact on how we feel. Board member Tim Kasser’s research reveals that activism and engagement can boost one’s sense of vitality.

Have you been wanting to volunteer but feel like you don’t have enough time? Now you have evidence that it may open up your day rather than crowd it. Consider helping out at a local event, or taking action on a social or environmental issue that inspires you by canvassing, writing letters, or going to a meeting or rally. Research shows that it will make you feel better, give you a greater sense of purpose, and strengthen your connection to your community.

Tips for feeling more time affluent:

  • Be in the present: Thinking about the present instead of the future can make you feel less time-constrained and rushed.
  • Breathe: Take a few minutes to breathe—even just breathing more deeply helps. Taking the time to meditate helps our feeling of expansiveness that feels so luxurious.
  • Socialize with family and friends: This makes us feel happier and more generous in our time.
  • Volunteer your time: Even spending as little as 10 minutes helping others can make you feel less time-constrained.
  • Get engaged: if there’s a cause that's important to you, get informed and get involved. It can help improve your own well-being as well as the world’s.

Wendy Philleo is Executive Director of the Center for a New American Dream.