Holiday Stress? How to Make Time Expand

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Do you feel time-rich?

As we approach the holiday season, it seems that many of us have To Do lists that get even longer than usual. I was recently chatting with a girlfriend who commented that she would get much more of the list done if only she had a few more hours in the day. I know that I have definitely felt that way too, finding myself silently bargaining for the 25th hour as deadlines and shopping lists extend themselves into the second or third day. Recently while reading the Boston Globe online (in my infinite spare time, of course) I was fascinated by an article on some new research on how time may not be a finite resource. Yes, we can actually make time expand!

The research shows that people typically perceive time in one of two ways – either they perceive a sense of “time affluence” (they feel time-rich) or “time famine” (they feel time-poor). People who generally feel time-poor tend also to feel less satisfied with their lives and experience more stress. On the other hand, people who feel time-rich tend to feel happier, more satisfied, and are often physically healthier.

All of us have the same 24 hours in a day, so what changes how we perceive the amount of time we have? I asked a few friends what they thought the answer to that question was. One friend commented that she thought she would feel like she had more time if she were making more money. Well, research shows that actually the opposite is true. The more money someone makes, the more time-poor the person tends to feel.

I was surprised to find that we all have access to one thing that can decrease the stress that comes with feeling time-poor. The research shows that people seem to experience more time affluence when they experience a sense of awe.

The researchers helped people experience a sense of awe either by showing them some awe-inspiring footage, having them write about an experience that gave them a sense of wonder, or having them imagine an awe-inspiring experience (viewing Paris from the top of the Eiffel tower). After this exposure, the study subjects reported an increase in their feelings of life satisfaction and an increase in their sense of the abundance of time.

Snowy field at sunset

Research shows that experiencing a sense of awe can make us feel more time-abundant.

It’s fascinating to me that these study subjects did not have to physically be in an awe-inspiring situation. They could simply remember one or imagine one and get the same benefits. This means we have this tool at our fingertips at any time – not just when we reach a breathtaking vista on our summer hiking trip.

There is also research to show that people who give money away tend to feel richer despite how much money they actually have. In the time perception study, researchers decided to see if this concept worked as well for “time affluence” as it did for feelings of financial affluence. Guess what, it worked!

People who donated their time to help others actually felt more time-rich than those who got an unexpected block of free time. This effect was consistent whether the donated time was volunteering for a charitable organization or staying home and helping their spouse who needed assistance with a task.

The next time I feel like I just don’t have enough hours in the day, I can remind myself that I have the opportunity to perceive time differently if I choose to do so. I can use some tools to help me – like looking at the photos of the beach views that I took on our last vacation. I can take a moment to stop and look up at the amazing cloud formations. Also, I can do a little something for someone else and know that my sense of accomplishment will help me to feel more time-affluent too.

So tell us, has this worked for you? How can you personally become more time-affluent?