Legendary comedian Jack Benny was known for his ability to milk a pause for a laugh like no other. He also developed a persona of being extremely tight fisted with his money, which was a source of many of his jokes and, ironically, the complete opposite of his kind and giving nature offstage. One of his most famous routines, often repeated upon popular request, went back to his days on old time radio, as far back as 1948. In the radio routine, a mugger accosts Benny on the street and demands, "Your money or your life!" This is followed by a long silence and cascading laughs that went on for two-and-one-half minutes, it is said. Many people still believe it to be the longest sustained laugh in entertainment history. Finally, the exasperated mugger breaks in and says: "Look bud, I said your money or your life!" To which Benny replies, "I'm thinking it over."
I mention this famous routine, partly because Jack Benny was a most beloved figure of the 20th Century, a grand performer and worthy of remembrance. But mostly because the question "your money or your life?" presented as a choice completely removing the crime scenario, is today no laughing matter. We are constantly being faced with decisions both big and small that pit time against money. According to a GOBankingRates survey, the number one New Year's resolution entering 2016 was to "Enjoy life to the fullest." But what does that mean exactly?
A recent study published by San Francisco State University found that people who spent money on experiences rather than material items were happier and felt the money was better spent. But what if given the choice between more time or more money, which would you choose? Which choice do you feel would lead to greater happiness?
Psychologist Hal Hershfield, an Assistant Professor of Marketing at UCLA's Anderson School of Management, recently found himself faced with such a decision. The choice: take on a well paying opportunity to teach a weekend seminar out of state, or stay at home with his wife and new baby girl, born 12 weeks earlier. The value of the money was easy to quantify. What he found much harder was putting a tangible value on the time that would be lost with his family.
While still in the horns of this dilemma, Hershfield, along with his colleague, Associate Professor Cassie Mogilner Holmes, decided to put this question to more than 4,000 Americans of different ages, income levels, occupations and marital and parental status. Their findings were recently published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
As detailed in a recent article in the New York Times Sunday Review, what they found was that most people valued money more than time in answer to the core question. Sixty-four percent of the 4,415 people that participated in the surveys chose money. So, there's the answer. Or is it?
Also asked were the participants' level of happiness and life satisfaction. What the researchers additionally found was that the people who chose time were on average statistically happier and more satisfied with life than the people who chose money.
This led researchers to wonder; was money the wrong choice or did the result merely reflect that the people who chose money were somehow more financially constrained and therefore less happy by nature?
To check this, researchers asked respondents to report their annual household income along with the number of hours they work each week. What they discovered was that even when the amount of leisure time and money respondents had was consistent, along with other factors such as the extent to which they valued material possessions, the people who chose time over money still came out as happier.
Professors Hershfield and Holmes are not going so far as to say that their research shows conclusively that having more of either resource is better or worse for happiness. But they do believe their research shows that the value individuals place on these resources relative to each other is predictive of happiness. People in the study who chose time over money, for example, thought about the resources differently. They had different intentions for how they would spend the time or money gained. They also point out that what one chooses is not necessarily a stable preference set in stone. There is room for change. When researchers asked a group of respondents to make the choice again a year later, nearly 25 percent had changed their mind.
Hershfield and Holmes also concede that sometimes there's no choice at all. People often must earn that extra pay to make ends meet. But when it is a choice, the likelihood of choosing more time over more money — despite the widespread tendency to do the opposite — they conclude is a good sign you'll enjoy the happiness you seek.
As to Professor Hershfield's choice, with the help of his research, he decided to stay at home with his wife and bouncing baby girl.
Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.