What would you do if you had more free time? Chances are you’ve thought about it over the years and wish you had the ability to do more of what you wanted. But it turns out that having a completely empty schedule to yourself isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Previous research has shown that not having enough free time in your schedule can lead to less contentment and negatively impact your overall well-being. People often become more stressed when they don’t feel like their time is their own and they can’t spend it how they please, whether that’s watching TV, exercising, or sitting around. So that means a schedule with limitless leisure time would be ideal, right?
Not necessarily. A recent paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that going to the complete opposite end of the spectrum — where you have too much leisure time — can also leave you not feeling your best. Scientists looked at the data for 21,736 Americans from the American Time Use Survey, specifically looking at the years 2012 and 2013. Subjects provided a detailed rundowns of their schedule during a previous 24-hour period and rating their well-being. It turned out that people’s satisfaction peaked when they had two to five hours of free time per day.
Researchers also did additional work where they randomly assigned 6,000 participants to one of three groups: One that imagined getting only 15 minutes of daily free time, one that imagined getting three a half hours of daily free time, and one that imagined getting seven hours of daily free time. Sure enough, their earlier findings still held up: People who thought about getting three and a half hours of leisure time had the highest reported level of satisfaction and well-being. On top of that, they discovered that participants felt better when they thought about having productive time to themselves, such as exercising or taking part in a hobby, than unproductive time, like watching TV or sitting at the computer.
While the amount of discretionary time you may need each day will vary, the idea of sticking between two to five hours a day is scientifically sound. A 2018 study also backs up this range, where it found that employed people needed roughly two and a half hours of free time per day compared to non-employed people who peaked in life satisfaction around four hours and 45 minutes of discretionary time every day.
By keeping an eye on your schedule, you’ll be able to strike the right balance of having the best amount of time for yourself.