We miss daily opportunities to be happier by five minutes, according to a Harvard professor.

In a recent cover article, Harvard Business Review argues in favor of choosing time over money and making everyday decisions in that vein.
Unfortunately, most of us act in the exact opposite way, according to Harvard Business School professor Ashley Whillans.

We overestimate the length of time required to enjoy an experience, which is one of the article’s most intriguing points. The outcome, in Whillans’ opinion?
“Small stretches of spare time that we could spend more wisely end up being wasted. More often than we think, socializing for five minutes with a coworker or exercising for 20 minutes on an elliptical machine can improve our mood.”

Whillans doesn’t define how we squander such brief intervals of free time, but I was able to immediately come up with the ideas of checking email or perusing social media in the five or ten minutes in between appointments.

The reasoning behind this is that there simply isn’t enough time to accomplish anything enjoyable, so we aimlessly fill it.

The significance of approaching leisure time with intention is one overarching lesson here. In her book Off the Clock, time-management expert Laura Vanderkam states that “few people would show up at work at 8am without any concept about what they’d do until 1pm, and people will come home at 6pm without having given it any consideration till 11pm.”

Vanderkam, like Whillans, especially encourages spending time with friends and family, noting that those who prioritize these relationships are more likely to claim that they generally have time for the activities they enjoy. (Vanderkam speculates that socializing, and not the other way around, is what produces the experience of freedom.)

People can stretch out time, she writes.

Another general lesson is that we’re notoriously bad at predicting how any experience will make us feel, whether working out or talking to a coworker.

In fact, despite believing they’d be happier if they remained to themselves, people are happier when they talk to a fellow commuter, according to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

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