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3 Ways to Be Happier by Living More Like a Millionaire

Start with less time watching TV, and more time exercising.

Key points

  • Millionaires tend to spend their time differently, which can make them happier than the average person.
  • Millionaires generally spend more time exercising and volunteering and less time watching TV.
  • Millionaires also have more autonomy at work, making time spent on work more enjoyable.

We see all kinds of stories on TV, in the press, or in books about some of the unique habits that millionaires have and how they spend their time. Think of a self-control master CEO who wakes up at 4 a.m. each morning to hit the gym before starting their busy workday or the story of how former president Barack Obama would wear the same suit each day to create one less decision for himself in order to save his brainpower for more important decisions.

These stories pique our interest, and sometimes these unique habits seem like they created the recipe for success for wealthy and powerful people. But until recently, systematic research on how millionaires spend their time differently has been sparse. Here, I will discuss three key ways research has uncovered that the ultra-rich spend their time differently from the rest of us and how it makes them happier.

1. Millionaires spend more time on exercise and volunteering.

The first significant difference uncovered is that millionaires spend much more of their free time on "active leisure," which includes exercise, socializing, praying/meditating, hobbies, and volunteering (Smeets, Whillans, Bekkers, and Norton 2020). Millionaires make it a priority to hit the gym, keeping their minds and bodies in peak condition. In this study tracking hundreds of millionaires and non-millionaires, millionaires spent 19 more minutes per day on exercise. The millionaires also spent 8 minutes more per day volunteering.

Because exercising and helping others are known resources to boost our happiness, increased time spent on active leisure was the first pillar of happiness for these millionaires. The good news is that non-millionaires experienced just as much happiness from spending time on active leisure; they just happened to make less time for it. You can steal this trick by shifting a bit more of your free time to exercise and help others.

2. Millionaires spend less time watching TV and relaxing.

On the flip side, millionaires spend significantly less of their time on "passive leisure," which includes watching TV, napping/resting, relaxing, and doing nothing. Millionaires spend 16 minutes less time watching TV per day than the general population and 16 minutes less time relaxing or doing nothing. Because passive leisure was a negative predictor of happiness, spending less time watching TV and relaxing was the second pillar of happiness for millionaires.

Figure from Smeets, Whillans, Bekkers, and Norton 2019
Source: Figure from Smeets, Whillans, Bekkers, and Norton 2019

3. Millionaires have more control at work.

The third key difference discovered between millionaires and the general population was not based on free time but instead on how their time at work is spent. To my surprise, there was no difference between how many hours each group spent on work. The difference between the groups was how much autonomy, or control, these groups had while working. Millionaires were able to craft their goals, methods, and working hours to a greater extent than the general population. Having control over one's goals, tasks, and schedules makes work (and life in general) more enjoyable, and this is the third pillar of happiness for millionaires when it comes to spending time.

How to steal these tricks

Perhaps the most surprising takeaway of all from the research described here is that there were not many differences in how millionaires and the general population spent their time. Both groups spent the same amount of time working, being on the phone or computer, and dealing with necessities like child care and chores. In other words, millionaires have the same 24 hours in a day as everyone else, and they tend to spend these hours largely like the rest of us.

The three key differences that emerged were spending more time exercising and helping others, less time on TV and sitting around, and enjoying work more due to having more control, all of which boost happiness. These are all minor modifications that most of us can make! By simply putting down the TV remote for 30 minutes and going for a run instead or asking your boss for more control and flexibility on work responsibilities, you can steal these hacks and increase your happiness, too.

Facebook image: Aleksei Isachenko/Shutterstock


Smeets, P., Whillans, A., Bekkers, R., & Norton, M. I. (2020). Time use and happiness of millionaires: Evidence from the Netherlands. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 11(3), 295-307.

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