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HOW RICH PEOPLE SPEND THEIR TIME

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Monday, June 23, 2008

People invariably believe that money can make them happy -- and rich people usually do report being happier than poor people do. But if this is the case, shouldn't wealthy people spend a lot more time doing enjoyable things than poor people?

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Nobel Prize-winning behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman has found, however, that being wealthy is often a powerful predictor that people spend less time doing pleasurable things, and more time doing compulsory things and feeling stressed.

People who make less than $20,000 a year, for example, told Kahneman and his colleagues that they spend more than a third of their time in passive leisure -- watching television, for example. Those making more than $100,000 spent less than one-fifth of their time in this way -- putting their legs up and relaxing. Rich people spent much more time commuting and engaging in activities that were required as opposed to optional. The richest people spent nearly twice as much time as the poorest people in leisure activities that were active, structured and often stressful -- shopping, child care and exercise.

Kahneman and his colleagues argued that many people mistakenly allocate enormous amounts of their time and psychological focus to getting rich because of a mental illusion: When they think about what it would mean to be wealthy, they think about how enjoyable it would be to watch a flat-screen TV set, play lots of sports or get a lot of pampering -- our stereotypical beliefs of how the rich spend their time.

"In reality," Kahneman and his colleagues wrote in a paper they published in the journal Science, "they should think of spending a lot more time working and commuting and a lot less time engaged in passive leisure."


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