• John Shrawder

Time Use, Happiness, and High School

Updated: Feb 24

In prior postings, I have established that the happiness and misery of a country is connected to health, income and wealth, and effectiveness of its institutions. These are universal findings established globally by the United Nations World Happiness Report. On this report, institutional effectiveness can be divided into perceived corruption, generosity, interpersonal support, and freedom. I also tried to attach institutional effectiveness to the high school curriculum.

In this posting I will ask questions of happiness and misery by reviewing surveys of how Americans spend their time and will suggest ways that high schools can influence how we can use time to increase happiness and reduce misery.

Much of the material in the next postings is assembled from statistics gathered from the Time Use Surveys of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and from psychologist Jeffrey Jenson Arnett of Swarthmore University from his 2005 book entitled “Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road from the Late Teens”.


Surveys of how people spend their time has been done since the 1960s. Since 2003, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics has prepared the American Time Use Survey each year. About 2,000 people a month are surveyed to determine how they spend their typical days. Information is available for many demographic groups.

The following table is a simplification of the overall findings for 2019. We will evaluate how this could affect happiness and misery. We will later look at time use across the life span, across countries, and over time.

The first table includes an average of all Americans age 15 and older. On the second column you will see how many hours each person spends each day on an activity. On the third column you will see what percentage of persons engage in the activity.

The activity is arranged to supplement the material on happiness and misery presented in an earlier post. We will make judgements on three questions.

  1. How can this activity lead to greater happiness and misery for any particular person

  2. How can we perform this activity to create greater happiness and misery for others

  3. Can Americans spend more or less time on one activity or another to create greater happiness for everyone

  4. How can high school help with each activity

The following are some opinions developed from this table.

Personal, Eating and Drinking, and Telephone and Mail. Personal care includes sleep, grooming, health related self-care, and transportation for these functions. These consume almost half of our day. The management of these activities could affecting our Health but we also may enjoy them unrelated to health. High school Health classes should teach about how these activities can affect health.

Household Activities and Purchasing. These activities are displayed in detail in the table. Many of these are performed by a small percentage of people. Nevertheless, LEARNING to use and maintain the technologies in homes can help increase happiness and reduce misery. This can be learned by Reading instructions, listening, using electronic media, or through trial and error using similar technologies. Comprehending written or spoken information should be a part of English Language Arts. Purchasing and Financial Decision making should be part of Social Studies curriculum.

Caring. This is unpaid caring. In the UN Happiness Report, Interpersonal Support is a driver of happiness or misery. The United States Ranks 37th in Interpersonal Report. It is below countries like Australia, Canada, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom. This ranking is below the overall happiness rank where the United States ranks 19th. This suggests that caring in the United States is weaker than other determinants of happiness. Many people do not feel they have someone to care for them. Perhaps Americans should dedicate more time and resources to caring.

Caring includes caring of children and adults. It represents the strength of our most intimate relationships. We may normally associate unpaid caring with the strength of families in a country. This would suggest that families in American need to be improved. However, about 11% of Americans spend time caring outside of their home. Caring should be taught in Health Classes. It should include caring of children and adults. We should also discuss the status of the family in Social Studies classes.

Work and Education. The average American over age 15 spends 4.07 hours per day or 28 hours a week at work or in school. About 45% of Americans are working or seeking work and 8% are pursuing an education. “Work” includes actual work, traveling to work, or time spent seeking work.

Paid work is typically seen as contributing to Income. Work can affect happiness and misery in other ways. Work can affect health and the work can sometimes be interesting and fulfilling or can be a pleasant environment.

People used to work many more hours—typically 60 hours a week. In the 19th century, laws were passed establishing a maximum 40 hour workweek for people age 13 and under. The Fair Labor Standards Act required payment of overtime for most people who work more than 40 hours. Most Americans today work under 40 hours weekly.

Decisions made in High School can have a major long term effect on Education, Income, and Happiness. All high school classes are designed to teach skills needed in higher education and employment. These could include communication skills, technical skills, artistic skills, math skills, and Physical skills. Many of these are specific to an occupation. It is also important that high schools provide services that help make good DECISIONS regarding education and employment.

However, high schools should not spend all their efforts at teaching people about work. Only about 45% of Americans are in the labor market. There are many other activities that can be a source of happiness or misery.

Leisure and Sports. About 95% of Americans pursue some form of leisure each day. Americans dedicate 5.19 hours each day to leisure. This is more time than work or anything other than Personal Care. Leisure activities are always associated with happiness. Leisure is not directly connected to happiness on the World Happiness Report but may be the result of increased income since the establishment of the 40 hour week.

The 1918 Cardinal Principles included “The worthy use of leisure” as a goal of high schools. This is probably a good goal today since leisure represents so much of our time.

High schools do not directly teach “leisure” but they teach things that could be considered leisure such as Fine Arts and Literature within English Language Arts. They also commonly provide extracurricular activities such as sports, music, and theater.

English Language Arts classes currently emphasize written material. Today only 5% of Leisure time is spent reading for pleasure. Most leisure time is spent using Electronic Media or Socializing which would use spoken language. English courses need to also teach how to appreciate electronic media and how create and appreciate entertaining communications in many media.

Students should also consider whether America should be committing more time to activities like Care and less to leisure.

Organization activities. Organization activities include religious activities, charity activities, and civic participation. This is the smallest activity with only 13% of Americans participating in these activities.

Generosity is a determinant of a nation’s happiness in the World Happiness Report. It is represented by Charitable Giving. The United States ranks 20th among nations in Charitable Giving. This is behind Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom but is similar to the overall ranking. Charity work is strong in America but strengthening charities could improve happiness.

Religion cannot be taught in American Public Schools. However, the importance and trend of religion can be discussed in social studies classes.

Less than 1% of the population are engaged civically. Social studies classes need to evaluate if this is enough to reduce the perceived level of corruption in the United States.

Students should also consider if more time should be committed to Organization activities to improve happiness in America.

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