Are you spending your free time right?


1. Does it leave you with a story?

Making memories through experiences gives us stories to tell. For example, taking a hike with a friend might lead to a better “story” than re-watching your favorite TV show alone in your living room. Those stories allow us to develop connections with other people, which provides unity, purpose and meaning in our lives, Wallman says. And when you share a story with someone else, you develop a kinship that increases your happiness even more.

2. Does it change you?

Anything that forces you to grow or gives you purpose is key to personal development. Activities that teach you new skills or capabilities, change your world view, lead to epiphanies or move you toward a greater goal are all “transformational.” This could be anything from learning a new recipe to taking an improv class.

3. Does it allow you to unplug?

Unplugging from digital devices and notifications when you’re relaxing or spending time with others can help you tune into “real life,” Wallman says. “Once you pull your phone out, it instantly pulls you out of being in flow and in the zone,” he says. For example, he keeps his phone on silent and leaves an OOO reply on his email that lets people know he may not reply right away. Research also shows that spending 120 minutes a week in nature improves your health and well-being.

4. Does it improve your relationships?

An 80-year long Harvard study showed that relationships, not money, predicted how happy and healthy participants were as they aged. Spending free time with friends and family members, or keeping in touch on the phone, deepens your relationships and also allows you to share your happiness with others.

5. Does it feel challenging?

Leisurely activities should still engage you on a level that allows you to utilize your skills and passions, because we’re happier when we are fully engaged with something that requires all of our energy. Removing distractions while you complete a task or activity is one way to dial up the intensity, Wallman says.

6. Does make you feel a sense of awe?

Moments of awe (watching a sunset, spending time with children or visiting monuments) improve your mood and how satisfied you are with your life. Perhaps more importantly, awe can make you appreciate ordinary moments even more.

7. Does it improve your social status?

Human beings care about their social status. Rather than chasing more material possessions or “keeping up with the Joneses,” Wallman says that giving back to your community through volunteering is one way to make your social status more meaningful, and make you feel like you’re playing an active role in society.

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