Giving time gives you time!
That’s what was tested in a new study which gave people some time and had them either (Mogilner et al., 2012):
- spend it on themselves,
- waste it, or,
- spend it on others, whether friends or strangers.
What they found was that people who spent the time on others felt afterwards that they had more time in both the present and the future, compared with those who spent it on themselves or wasted it.
This seems odd and the opposite of how people intuitively deal with being short of time. A regular response to being rushed is to hoard spare time for ourselves. So why does giving it away help?
Here’s how the study’s authors answer this question:
“…spending time on others makes people feel like they have done a lot with their time – and the more they feel they have done with their time, the more time they will feel they have.”
It seems that time well spent expands in our mind, giving us the illusion of being time-rich. When we spend our time well, i.e. by giving it away, it makes us feel more effective and capable.
Of course there is an upper limit to how much giving time will make you feel you have more time yourself. Some people, like full-time caregivers, already give so much of their time away that giving more is detrimental.
But for the majority of us, when making decisions about how to spend our spare time, defaulting to ‘me-time’ may not be the best answer, either for others or for ourselves.