The days seem to be getting longer, but there’s one reality we can’t escape: they are 24 hours for each and every one of us. If you’re like most people, you often feel that you haven’t enough time to take care of your responsibilities and get plenty of rest and leisure time, too.
Fortunately, three simple changes regarding how you view and spend your time can bring you more happiness.
1. If You Can’t Do It, Imagine It
Anticipation of desirable events—even just thinking about your favorite activities—can make you instantly happier. Think of your favorite food or drink and imagine tasting it. Does your mouth start to water a little? This is not a joke about Pavlov’s dogs—it’s your happiness response at work! When you need a happiness hit but don’t have the time or ability to actually DO your favorite activities, just imagining them can work.
This is especially true when it comes to taking vacations. For many people, looking forward to a vacation is a large part of what is enjoyable about taking one. This summer, be sure to talk frequently about your holiday plans, read about your intended trips, and allow yourself to anticipate details about something that makes you happy.
2. Spend Your Time Wisely
If you’re short on time, be wise about how you spend it. When it comes to chores that can wait, or habits that aren’t necessarily important (checking email, for example), ask yourself, “Will what I am about to do become more valuable over time?” It’s too a high standard to hold yourself to for all of your daily tasks, but a good way to make better decisions about how you spend large portions of your time. Time’s scarcity increases its value, and too much time on our hands can be just as bad as not enough. I frequently notice that people I work with in the therapy room are more prone to anxiety or depression when they have large swaths of unfilled time. Structure and activities centered on social connection are typically recommended.
If you haven’t enough time to do everything you want, choose to spend your time in ways that are meaningful for you. At the very least, focusing on nothing but the present moment can make the time you do have seem to expand.
3. Be Mindful of How Happiness Evolves
Remember that happiness looks different as we age. Young people often experience happiness as a form of excitement or novelty. Older people often describe happy moments as peaceful. When you make choices about how you might spend your time, consider which kind of happiness you are seeking, and accept that you might have once needed a lot of new experiences or stimulation but now you are content with something else. Pay attention to what you prefer to do when you have a lot of freedom: do you tend to take a vacation to the trusty beach, only to find yourself wanting to explore and be more active? Perhaps your time is better spent seeking new experiences.
Similarly, when making decisions about something you hope will make you happier, remember that your future self might have a different version of happiness than you have now. Try to better anticipate what you will feel like doing on Friday night (be realistic about how you actually feel at the end of a week!) and it will likely be a better use of your time and therefore bring you more happiness.
The Immeasurable Value of Time
Perhaps the most obvious point about time and happiness is that time is a much more valuable currency than money or objects. You may remember your baby’s first steps better than the amount of your first paycheck. Your memory of your first love may bring you more happiness than the memory of your getting your first iPhone. Time spent doing something memorable or being with someone you love is more valuable than owning something or having money.
Solution-focused therapy uses simple tools that make these happiness boosts easy to remember and access. By focusing on what’s working, taking in the good, and being on the lookout for simple solutions to problems, people can increase their happiness and maximize their precious time.
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