Rubin says people often move from activity to activity without really thinking about what they prefer to be doing and with whom. “Time gets filled up but not with things important to you.”
For most people, physical activity and volunteer work are linked with happiness. Social connections are big predictors as well. “The more time that individuals spend on relationships — going to lunch with a co-worker or out to dinner with close friends — the happier they are,” Rubin says.
South Florida executive coach Margarita Plasencia says a first step is figuring out what drives you. She calls it “centering.” “If gardening makes you happy, then you know that on Sunday, there’s no question what you are going to do. You make gardening a priority.”
• Re-assess your spending. With all the advancements we have made, Americans still equate being rich with being happy. As Time magazine notes in a recent article by Jeffrey Kluger on happiness: In an era with Facebook, YouTube and reality shows, everyone is continuously comparing themselves to others and someone else always appears to have more.
Money can make you happy but it’s the way you spend it that affects happiness. Rather than buying bigger homes or luxury cars, psychologists found people are most happy when they spend their money on experiences, such as attending a baseball game with friends or taking a much-anticipated trip.
Psychologists also found the value of experiences tends to grow over time, making us happier as we look back on them in our memory, possibly because they tend to bring us closer to other people, whereas material things are more often enjoyed alone.
• Consider easing up on multi-tasking. As we try to squeeze more activities into our busy lives, one of our poorest ways to spend time has proved to be multitasking. In the moment, multitasking might make us feel good. But researchers say we are most happy when we are engaged directly with an activity with a single focus, such as working quietly and alone on a project or having a conversation with someone you know well and not being interrupted by cellphone calls. “That takes discipline and sometimes people don’t want to engage in it,” Plasencia says. “They don’t realize they are less happy when they are trying to do everything and not focused on anything.”
• Ask for flexibility. An increasing number of American workers feel they would be happier with a flexible work schedule or a sense of control over their work day. Managers are most likely to grant flextime to men in high-status jobs who request it to pursue career-development opportunities, according to a new study by Professor Victoria Brescoll, of the Yale School of Management. Women, regardless of their status within a firm or their reason, are less likely than high-status men to be granted a schedule change. But that shouldn’t stop you from asking.
Even if you already consider yourself happy, it’s important to revisit your time use now and then and make sure you are making a habit of spending it in ways that lead to maximum fulfillment. My friend plans to do that, and I do, too.