I attended the 2016 Time Matters Conference in Seattle and have so much to report on how to fight back against time poverty in America. The range of speakers covered all aspects of this critical issue facing working people across the country. I was blown away by their insights, expertise, research, and passion.
This non-profit organization is passionate about convincing people, corporations, and government to change their mindset, HR policy, and labor laws concerning time imbalance. All workers should have the right to receive the necessary amount of paid time off at every stage of their working life. Don’t you agree?
If you are reading this article I am probably preaching to the choir. You are likely someone who already believes in the value of vacations and their great positive affect on your family, your health, and your happiness. The conference presented numerous key data points to back up these claims.
Decades ago economists like Keynes predicted that we would all be working fewer hours (like 15 hours per week) as automation and productivity turn working hours into leisure hours. How wrong they were!
Let’s take the time to review what I learned from these experts in paid time off, work-life balance, and labor policies in the U.S. and Canada.
The timing of the conference couldn’t have been more perfect as it was the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service (NPS) in the USA. We had free admission to Mt. Rainier National Park where we took in spectacular views of this snow-capped mountain. Here are a few iconic photos from the Sunrise Visitor Center trail that we took on this vacation day off from our conference agenda.
National Parks are a treasure for all citizens of the U.S. so I highly recommend that you create a bucket list of the top 10 national parks that you wish to visit. There are 58 in the country not to mention hundreds of state parks to consider. Before you decide where to go on your next vacation, browse through the official NPS parks website or the recommended National Geographic guide to plan your next natural adventure.
When Thomas Jefferson wrote about our inalienable rights to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” in the Declaration of Independence, he sincerely meant all three. As stated by Professor Charles Sylvester of Western Washington University at a talk I attended, the term happiness (as opposed to property) was quite purposeful. The American dream includes leisure and that makes me proud to be an American! Fortunately his lecture was recorded so you can watch it on YouTube.
Many of our country’s founders including Benjamin Franklin were concerned about enabling American citizens to lead a good life. I wholeheartedly agree. It’s time to take back the goals set forth during the founding of our nation and make leisure a priority. For me that means taking purposeful time off from the busyness of work and life to experience more vacation time.
As a former Philadelphia resident, I recommend that you plan a trip to see in person where the Declaration of Independence was signed. The Independence Mall, Liberty Bell, the Constitution Center, and numerous famous sites in Old City Philadelphia are among the most historical places you can visit in the USA. As far as happiness is concerned for me, the fabulous eats at the Reading Terminal Market is an essential stop during my weekends trips to Philly.
Professor Sylvester recommended a history book on this subject called “Free Time: A Forgotten American Dream.” I downloaded a sample chapter on my Amazon Kindle (for Android phones) so I can start reading it now.
Speaker Tricia Alach of Flow Mind & Body compared American culture with that of the Netherlands, Denmark, and New Zealand. The difference in how the two groups relate to taking time off was stark. Europeans have embraced vacations as part of their culture. They tend to value vacations as a normal break from work to enjoy life without the need to justify the benefits. Americans on the other hand often use vacations as a way to relieve the stress of overwork and recharge so they can be more productive when they return to work.
The work-life philosophical questions she asked were:
Tricia’s presentation proposed that American culture is the explanation as to why so many of us have trouble believing in the intrinsic nature of vacation time. Not just that, but why we often feel guilty about taking all our vacation days, have trouble disconnecting from work, and forced to use vacations as a de-stressor tool. So even if Congress enacts a generous guaranteed paid time off policy tomorrow, the average worker might not fully embrace taking vacations as a natural and healthy way of living.
Her advice on how we can also contribute to the take back your time movement include:
It’s common sense that vacations lead to happiness, but has it been proven? While business leaders need proof that vacations lead to increased productivity and retention, the doubters among us also need proof as to the value of taking regular vacations. What does the research by Gallup suggest?
Well according to a quoted Gallup-Healthways Daily Mood poll (source), Americans are happier on weekends and holidays than on workdays. Thanksgiving was reported as the happiest day of the year along with Christmas and July 4th. Tuesday was reported on average to be the least happy day of the week. Their Well-Being Index tracks 175,000 people across America by way of phone surveys. If it sounds like common sense to you too, why do so many people work weekends and fail to take all their vacation days?
Personally I think it is far too easy to get caught up in the responsibility of work and hooked on the feeling of accomplishment. Those are both positive aspects of of being gainfully employed. However we must not forget how much happier we feel when we take the ideal amount of free time to do anything we choose. Vacation time is exactly that sort of time that we dedicate towards activities which lead to increased happiness.
Read my past article on the Top 12 Reasons Americans Do Not Take Their Vacation Days for more on this core topic.
One global measure of happiness is called Gross National Happiness. Countries that adopt this measure of success value happiness of their citizens over pure economic (what generates money) models such as gross domestic product (GDP). Robert Levine, a Professor of Psychology at Fresno State, traveled to the country of Bhutan which is famous for defining and pursuing this measurable goal. He was involved in this groundbreaking project which was sponsored by the United Nations.
I wonder how the USA would score if we made a legislative effort to turn our focus away from growth for growth’s sake towards American well-being. I hope to visit Bhutan myself some day and see the results of a top-down happiness policy. That unique destination is getting added to my bucket list right away!
Robert also talked about his earlier research published in his book “A Geography of Time.” It compared the speed of walking in various cities, whether people arrive early or late for appointments, and even how accurate their timepieces are. It turns out they all have a significant impact on how a society relates to the concept of time (and how we use or waste it). Fascinating stuff!
Ashley Whillans, a PhD student in Social Psychology in British Columbia, shared the results of several studies about the trade-off of time versus money. As you might guess, people are more often swayed by the prospect of more money over additional free time. They are prone to undervalue their limited time off from work and life when the enticement of money is presented.
I do wonder if people can reach a certain level of (more than enough) income after which point they’ll start to prefer time over money. Or are we all hard-wired to be financially greedy when it comes to the opportunity to earn a bit more income? Here is her full talk so you can benefit from her research findings.
She described one reason (fallacy) that goes by the term “future time slack,” whereby people believe that they’ll have more free time later. The reality of course is that if we were busy last week and we are busy this week, we’ll be busy next week. It’s sort of like the putting off saving for retirement when you are young and starting out. People wrongly think that because they’ll earn more money in the future they’ll be able to catch up despite the reality of compounding interest. You cannot make up for lost time in a similar way that you cannot easily catch up on saving for retirement.
It is also worth noting that the average person is unwilling to spend money on time-saving services despite knowing exactly how they would spend this newfound time.
I understand completely because I know how valuable my daytime hours are, but I find it hard to justify spending money to have my laundry or shopping done for me. Not wanting to pay to outsource recurring household tasks is more common among hourly workers. Workers paid by the hour know exactly how much their time is worth while salaried workers don’t think in terms of hourly pay.
I’m so glad to have attended my first Time Matters conference and met so many smart and dedicated people who are giving up their time so that we can all have more family, personal, and vacation time. Thanks go out to all of them for sharing knowledge and inspiring others to fight for real change in vacation and time off policy in the USA.
The most fitting lesson for VacationCounts readers is to take time off to allow breakthroughs to happen. Think about the most memorable times and life-changing moments in your own life. Could they have ever happened if you didn’t take a break to stop, think, adjust if necessary, and pursue happiness?
Want to read more about the Take Back Your Time movement? Pick up a copy of the official handbook or these best-selling titles like “Affluenza” on the consumerism epidemic and “What’s the Economy For, Anyway?” from author and activist John de Graaf.
Looking to plan a trip to Seattle? From talking to many people I get the feeling that the Pacific Northwest states of Washington and Oregon are often overlooked. See all that you can do in just one sunny day visiting Seattle in this Sidewalk Safari post. Besides my day trip to Mount Rainier, I also managed to squeeze in a walk to the EMP Museum for the Star Trek exhibit while tasting the best beer and cider in Capital Hill and Fremont.
Seattle hotels are a bit pricey during the summer so I booked with Airbnb to save on my accommodations (get 35 off your first stay). Another trip idea I’ve done years ago is to fly into Seattle for a few days followed by a drive to Portland to compare these two must-see vacation regions. As I always say, everyplace is worth visiting (at least once)!
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