Chances are, you could use some more free time.

New research shows that people who have less than two hours of free time per day are less happy—and that feeling of being "time poor" tends to hit women hardest. And even in marriages where women bring in similar income to their husbands, men still spend about 3.5 more hours a week on leisure activities, according to this 2023 study conducted by Pew Research Center.

For well-being, we need to feel both satisfaction, which comes from accomplishment, and joy, which is a more slippery concept, says Sarah Gundle, a clinical psychologist in New York City. "Joy is more about relaxing into a realm where you aren't controlling anything," she says.

Can you spot the difference? Consider each of the following ways to spend a solo hour or two, and determine which are joyful and which are satisfying.

Option 1: You rearrange your beloved books, setting aside a few to donate.

Option 2: You go for a run—that's your meditation time, and you want to try a marathon.

Option 3: You wander a museum, stopping to ponder pieces that draw you in.

Option 4: You peruse the farmers' market for your favorite family activity: cooking together.

If you pegged Option 3 as joyful, bravo! Satisfying activities may be pleasurable, but they have an agenda. Option 1, about organizing and donating, is productive and largely benefits others. The same is true of Option 4. In Option 2, running is goal-oriented rather than purely contemplative.

To find out what brings you joy, ask yourself: Is this activity just for me? Does it yield external results or internal harmony? Whether it's taking nature walks or listening to music, Gundle says, make time to accomplish absolutely nothing.

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