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Free Time, Not Money, Is Happiness

Todd Potter, Sports Editor

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  In America, we often conflate wealth with happiness, but I think we ought to conflate our free time with satisfaction.

  So many people define their happiness by their wealth, whether it be their money in their bank account or the decor in their home.  People see so many wealthy individuals who look happy with their wealth that they decide the money is the reason for the happiness, but correlation is not causation.  

  Michael Norton, a Harvard Business School professor and co-author of Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, said to CNBC Make It that money can be used to ‘buy’ happiness, depending on how people use it.

  Norton’s first tip is for people to use money to pay for services so that they can have more free time.  According to the Los Angeles Times, research led by Ashley Whillans, a professor at Harvard Business School, concluded people who used their money to pay people to do unpleasant daily tasks, giving them more free time, felt happier.  Because of the services they paid for, they were less likely to have stress due to a lack of time, which is related to feeling unsatisfied with life.

  Norton also said that people can ‘buy’ happiness by spending money on other people instead of spending it on themselves.  He talked about a study he did on a university campus which showed people who buyed Starbucks for other people and talked to them felt happier than if they bought coffee for themselves.

  Norton also explained that spending money on people in close proximity makes people feel happier because they can see the impact of their actions.  Though people may need to take the extra time to show generosity to someone, these small acts of kindness may pay off, improving how they see the world.  

  Norton’s final tip is to buy experiences instead of buying possessions.  He promotes the idea of people using their money on enriching experiences, such as a vacation with their family.  Norton explained that people feel happy before an event, can cherish events afterwards, and being with other people can provide more happiness than materialism.

  Time away from the stress of our daily lives, with the people we love, is worth more than anything we could buy on Black Friday.

  Conflating wealth with happiness reminds me of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, especially when Jay Gatsby believes that only by acquiring wealth will he be able to make Daisy Buchanan fall in love with him. He chooses to let his lack of wealth make her seem unattainable.  

 So many people, like Gatsby, believe that wealth is the one thing separating them from happiness. In reality, our free time, our generosity, and the time we spend in community with others is the root of joy.  

  In the end, money is just green paper used to exchange goods and services; it only has value because we give it value.  

  May we realize our happiness cannot be defined by what we have.  May we learn to take a step back and value our free time as well as the people we spend it with more than how we can gain this time.  

  Perhaps our freedom to choose how we spend our time and not our money, as Gatsby believed, is at the core of the American dream.  At least, it should be.

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Free Time, Not Money, Is Happiness