Time Famine: Because Time is What People Desire Even More Than Wealth

Since 1972, Pew Research has conducted surveys on how happy people are. And you know what they’ve found?

Over time, half the people report feeling so-so, about a third are very happy, and about a fifth are not too happy.

The results are remarkably consistent across the decades.

The question is, if you’re not happy – how can you get into that top group? And if you’re already there – how can you stay there?

Well you can’t buy your way into it.

The study suggests in most cases…

Money is Not What we Desire to Make us Happy

So what is it?

A successful career?  Family?  Children?

These are all 2-4 on the list.

No, there is one thing that we crave more than anything else.

I’m not discounting how important family and contributing meaningfully to society is.

Rather – this survey highlights a real problem that we haven’t solved yet.

A Growing “Epidemic” – Time Famine

Pew Research showed that what matters to us more than money…is having free time.

Sixty-eight percent, almost 7 in 10 surveyed responded that having free time was very important, compared to 12 percent saying being wealthy.

By a margin of almost 6 to 1, free time beat out wealth as what people desire most.

And you know why?

Because in spite of how difficult things may be for some people, the truth is the common burden we all share is “time famine.”

Time famine  is “the feeling of having too much to do and not enough time to do it”

That’s why so many people daydream of well…free time to daydream, rather than have a lot of money.

And I can relate – because the truth is…

I’ve Experienced Time Famine Myself

I just thought I had too much to do.  I thought I had to prioritize and manage my time better.

And while certainly I’ve improved my personal productivity: my research also showed I was not alone.

Time famine can also lead to exhaustion, difficulty sleeping well (or at all) and feeling like you just have to get through “one more thing” – except that feeling never goes away, because there is always yet another thing to do or be done.

Who Is Impacted Most by Time Famine?

Perhaps most ironic:  highly successful, highly paid people may actually be more likely to experience time famine than those who are not as financially well-off.


Some theories suggest that at higher levels of income, a “winner take all” mentality starts to take over – and this leads to a type of time “arms race” where the highest performers are trying to outdo each other.

Another theory goes that high income earners simply are responding to the incentives put in front of them by society as a whole, and can’t help but be stretched for time.

The research is still on-going, but I want to step back for a minute to consider…

The Bigger Picture of Time Famine

See, when one person finds themselves lacking time, I would say their choices lead them there.

However, what I’ve described now is a far reaching phenomenon.

Time famine isn’t just impacting a small group here and there – I believe it points to a trend in how we value our time in society.

Think about this:

  • People reportedly are feeling busier than ever…and yet most people also predict they will be more busy next year
  • People report they don’t have enough time for their families, even though family is very important
  • People on their deathbeds report they wished they had lived a life true to themselves…and yet the research shows people don’t feel they can choose where their time goes.

What does all this mean?

The Bottom Line: This is a Serious Problem

Here’s my point: time famine is a serious problem.

It first showed up in research a couple decades ago, and if you cannot control how you spend your days…how then can you control what goes on in your life?

However, now we’ve at least identified and started to discuss the problem. The question then becomes: how do we solve it?

The Good News – There Is A Solution

All hope is not lost however.

I went from a place of not having enough time for myself, to finally having time to spend with my family, friends and personal projects – while still advancing in my career, while still improving my body.


I got to a place that researchers call time affluence.

It started with a mindset shift where I started to value my time much more heavily than I used to, and then I started making changes in my life to make more time for myself.

What’s Next? How I Got Here

In this three part series, we’re going to discuss time famine, what I discovered and tried in my own life, and what you can do about it in your life.

We’re just getting started – I’ll dig into this more in Part 2. Stay tuned.

And if you’ve enjoyed this article – please consider sharing it with your friends, so they can get the rest of the series as well.

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