In the Business section of the New York Times (August 8, 2010 ), the author, Stephanie Rosenbloom, wrote about people who had successfully downsized their lives, sometimes to a level many of us would deem extreme, particularly when it came to possessions. Whether by choice or circumstances, such as lay off or divorce, they own less, work less, and seem to be living happier lives.

Researchers interested in the topic of what makes people happy have learned a few things while observing these downsizers. 1) There is a point, soon after basic needs have been taken care of, when things become more of a burden than a blessing, e.g., the bigger house that needs more repairs, an abundance of gadgets that takes you away from other humans. 2) Enough is often too much. There is always the next and newest. When is the last time you purchased an article of clothing because you wore out the previous piece, for me maybe running shoes?

The most interesting discovery was something I already knew but maybe was not quick enough to embrace—people who spend their time and money on experiences report greater and longer lasting enjoyment than those who have purchased things. And it doesn’t have to be a huge vacation(though people who annually spent $20,000 on leisure supposedly got as much of a boost in happiness as someone getting married, according to Thomas Leire of the National Institute on Aging). Experiences can be concert tickets, a long weekend, a hike, or time doing nothing. Remember doing nothing? It’s what I did all summer as a kid—no camp, no lessons, no helicopter parents, good ole nothing for two and a half months.

How does that relate to you? Many of my executive coaching clients who appear to have the best blended lives seem to be those who plan for time away from the office and the tech stuff that goes with it. They make the most of three-day weekends, holidays, and slow times. They use all of their vacation time without bringing the office along, even if it’s a staycation. People take photos of experiences, rarely of possessions, because for many of us the thrill is in the purchasing not the ownership, and the pleasure with images is in reminiscing about leisure, newness, and time with others; often for many years after the event.

Take a moment and ask yourself these questions:

  1. If increased happiness can be attained by spending more time in leisure, what am I willing to do or do without to make sure I get a greater amount of down time?
  2. If experiences bring greater fulfillment than things, what would I be willing to trade for more adventures or alone time?
  3. If I earned (yes, earned) X number of days of vacation, personal and holiday time, how would my stress level be different if I planned entertainment for each one of those days?
  4. What would it be like if I used all of my frequent flyer miles, payback stays, and spent 10% less on stuff and put it into my “fun” account?
  5. Could I think of one fun thing to do every day that everyone, including me, could never, ever, call work, and actually enjoy it?

Time vs. Things. What makes you happier?

(c) Jane Cranston.

Author's Bio: 

Jane Cranston is an executive career coach. She works with success-driven executives, managers and leaders to reach their potential, better manage their boss and staff, as well as develop a career strategy to reach goals and aspirations. Jane is the author of Great Job in Tough Times a step-by-step job search system. Click here to subscribe to her twice monthly Competitive Edge Report.