Last updated: Jun 13, 2016

We know time is money, but could it be more valuable than money? 

Maybe so, at least when it comes to well-being: Research published recently in the journal Social Psychological & Personality Science suggests that people who value time over money are happier. 

Time and money are a constant trade-off in the modern world. Many of us feel like we're incessantly bartering with ourselves, and the universe, to balance it out. (Do we take the job that pays better, but demands longer hours? Or do we choose the gig with the lower salary and shorter workday?)

To find out which commodity people valued more, the researchers came right out and asked: "Which do you want more of—time or money?"

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The research paper included five studies, involving more than 4,000 people. Respondents were surveyed online and in person, and some were also asked the reason why they had a particular preference.

Overall, about two-thirds of the respondents said they would rather have more money.

"It makes sense," says study co-author Hal Hershfield, PhD, assistant professor of marketing at UCLA's Anderson School of Management. "Time actually buys you a lot but people don't always recognize that."

In other words, money is more measurable.  

But when the researchers correlated the survey results with various measures of well-being, it turned out that the people who wanted more time were actually happier than those who chose money (regardless of the amount of time and money they already had). 

Which is sort of what the team expected. Previous research has suggested that people who focus on time tend to engage in activities more likely to lead to happiness. Material goods costing money also tend to bring less happiness than experiences, which tend to take more time than money.

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In the current study, people who chose extra hours over extra cash were more likely to focus on the positives (how they would spend the time) than the negatives (there's never enough time in the day). 

They also talked more in terms of "wants" (say, "I have artistic projects I want to complete") than "needs" (such as household chores that must get done). And they said they would likely spend their extra time with others rather than alone. Those uses of time have been linked to happiness in the literature, Hershfield pointed out.

There were other differences between the groups too. People who chose time were more likely to be older, be married, and have children, all factors that may shape perceptions of the value of time. 

Hershfield's advice? "When people are making resource trade-offs between time and money, they should consider what the value placed on one versus another will ultimately get them in the long runin terms of happiness."