Science says the more you give, the happier you’ll be (Hint: it’s not money)

Let me tell you about Jason.

Jason leads a team of 15 and prides himself on being super productive. He gets up before dawn, following a strict routine as he goes to the office before the rest of the family get out of bed. During the day, he replies to most of the Slack emails and messages in minutes and sets off for a long day at work before heading home.

But not everyone on Jason’s team loves his management style.

“He is never available to talk,” says one team member. “Emails are one thing … but it’s nearly impossible to have a face-to-face conversation. He’s just too busy.”

It’s not just Jason’s team that feels this way; his family often feels neglected. It is not intentional, there is simply not enough time in the day. Work comes first, which leads to many missed family dinners, soccer games, and dance recitals.

Recently, Jason had an epiphany. After serious reflection on himself, he realized that he was holding on to a priceless gift, which he must begin to share with others.

Giving others time is an easy way to get more out of your relationships, which is a key benefit of emotional intelligence, the ability to understand and manage emotions. Let’s break down why time is more valuable than money, what research has to say about giving away your time, and how doing so can help you experience greater happiness.

(If you find value in the “gift of time” principle, you may be interested in my emotional intelligence course, which includes 20 other rules that help you develop your emotional intelligence. Check out the course here.)

Giving your time to others increases happiness and commitment

“The most precious resource we all have is time,” said Steve Jobs. He was right, of course; there is always more money to be made. But the time is up; once it’s gone, it’s gone.

This is why it is so important to live with intention when it comes to spending your time. In an age where everything seems to be fighting for your attention, it’s all too easy to pass the time in ways you will later regret. Conversely, when you share your time with others, you make them feel appreciated. This leads to stronger and deeper relationships … which, in turn, leads to a greater feeling of commitment and happiness.

There is research to support this.

For example, research firm Gallup found that employees whose executives held regular meetings with them were nearly three times more likely to be involved on the job than their counterparts who did not have regular meetings. Employees who had daily communication with their managers were the most involved.

But replying to emails is one thing; showing self-interest is another. The Gallup study also revealed that employees valued communication, not only in regards to their roles and responsibilities, but also in their lives outside of work.

Of course, this type of investment takes time. But it is time well spent.

But what about our personal lives?

In a study conducted by psychologists from the University of Zurich, participants were assigned a meeting with three people they held over the course of a week, to give them a “gift of time”. (The gift had to be more than the time they would normally spend with each person.) Compared with another group who wrote their memories in a daily journal, the “time givers” reported greater happiness. The longer they continued the practice, the greater the happiness they brought back.

You can do the same thing.

This week, why don’t you plan your time gift? Simply choose a person you would like to dedicate some of your time to, then plan to do something with that person that you would not normally do.

  • Invite someone to dinner or out, or just for coffee
  • A surprise visit, where you bring a meal or a dessert to share
  • Take your person for a walk in the park or garden
  • A virtual call with an old friend you haven’t seen all along
  • Take time off from work to spend the afternoon with your partner, child, another family member or friend

Each of these gifts of time is relatively simple, but they are also extremely valuable, perhaps more so than you think.

For one thing, whenever you share your time with others, you are actually working on building a stronger and deeper relationship.

But consider this too: You barely remember the time you spend alone, but you Do remember the time you spend with others. So by simply sharing your time with others, you make an investment; you are creating memories for the future.

So, as you plan next week, remember:

Time is the most precious resource you have. Spend it wisely. Because once it’s gone, you’ll never get it back.

The views expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not Inc.com’s.

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