Science Says That More Leisure Time Does Not Equate to Improved Well-Being

The way we spend our free time matters

Jill (Conquering Cognitions)
Published in
4 min readOct 28, 2021


A woman lying on a blue couch covered in a blanket while reading a magazine.
Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

Time is big business.

There are thousands of books, apps, and articles on time management, productivity, and life hacks that are designed to save us precious minutes in our busy day. Time is a finite resource, and we strive to increase efficiency on necessary tasks to have more opportunities for leisure.

We assume that having more free time will make us happier and improve our life satisfaction, but science says it is not that simple.

How Much Free Time Do We Need?

Research has found that more free time does not always equate to increased happiness. From zero to two hours of leisure time (time to do any activity of your choosing including exercise, spending time with friends, reading a book, watching TV), our well-being increases. It remains fairly steady from two to five hours, but the impact of this time on our overall life satisfaction starts to decline after five hours.

The relationship between free time and well-being is a bell-shaped curve — there is a sweet spot for leisure.

The study’s authors, Sharif, Mogilner, & Hershfield (2021), state, “Whether young or old, working or unemployed, male or female, married or single, with children or without — most would benefit from having a moderate amount of discretionary time: not too little and not too much.”

A minimum of two hours of free time to disconnect from the demands of the day is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle. Just like a cranky toddler needs a nap, adults require time to relax, recharge, and regroup.

Occasionally, we will find ourselves with extended periods of leisure time, such as weekends or vacations, and the use of this time determines how beneficial it is to our well-being.

People who spend 5+ hours of free time engaged in solo or unproductive pursuits (this is defined differently for each individual but it could be mindlessly watching TV, scrolling social media, losing time on video games) feel less satisfied overall with their life.



Jill (Conquering Cognitions)
Writer for

PsyD, Clinical Psychologist | Writer | Words in Human Parts, Forge, Better Humans | Life Lessons Supported by Science