Science Says: Sharing free time with others on a golf course is a good thing

Science Says: Sharing free time with others on a golf course is a good thing

I’ve long sensed that I’ve pretty much won the lottery when it comes to the work/life balance—or, more accurately, the golf/everything-that’s-not-golf balance. But now, thanks to a recent opinion piece in the New York Times—I have a bit of scientific fact to back me up.

The article is titled, “You Don’t Need More Free Time,”  and was written by Cristobal Young, an assistant professor of sociology at Stanford University. Her basic premise is that while most people think they’d be happier if they had more time for themselves (which means less time slaving away at work), the research suggests otherwise. Free time’s true value, Young writes, lies in being able to share it with others who are similarly and—here’s the key—simultaneously unburdened.

Drawing on data from more than 500,000 respondents to the Gallup Daily Poll, Young and her team determined that most people’s sense of wellbeing was lowest Monday through Thursday, began to edge up on Friday and peaked on Saturday and Sunday. No surprise there. But what did throw them for a loop was that this pattern held true for both the employed and unemployed.

Their conclusion: happiness isn’t strictly a function of work vs. leisure. Something else is, uh, at play here.

So they conducted a second study, this time drawing upon the American Time Use Survey. Its findings mirrored those of Gallup in terms of the preference for weekends over weekdays. But it went a step further and determined that the key wasn’t simply time, but the fact that we get to spend that time with family and friends. That led Young to conclude that time is a “network good,” whose value depends in large part on its ability to be shared. She offers the analogy of a computer. If you’re the only one who has one, it’s not worth much. But if everyone has one, and they’re all interconnected, then it becomes practically indispensible.

The Best of Both Worlds

What, for heaven’s sake, does this have to do with golf? I’m getting to that. Finally.

As an independent contractor, I work for multiple clients. And, most of the time, I can do so from the comfort of my home. As such, I have tremendous flexibility in where and when I complete my assignments. The fact that I’m based in the UK and the people I collaborate with are in the US amplifies this advantage. I mean, 8 a.m. here is midnight in Los Angeles. This creates the very real possibility of playing golf on what is, for most people, a workday. And it means I can avoid the crunch of playing golf on the weekends which are, for most people, non-work days.

Now, based on Young’s findings, this arrangement shouldn’t really be doing all that much for my wellbeing. Playing golf solo on, say, a Wednesday, has its charms. Take, for example, my recent visit to Crail. It certainly beats spending that time chained to a desk. But it’s unlikely to be as gratifying as playing golf on a Saturday when others can join me. Right?

Well, it probably would be—if not for a wee twist.

You see, golf is one of the few games you can play your entire life. So while I’m still fully self-employed, there are a bunch of folks around here who are a bit older than me and retired. They, like me, can play golf on a Wednesday. So I get the best of both worlds: a break from the slog of the workweek, amplified by sharing this free time with other like-minded and like-hearted folk.

It’s a wonderful thing, for which I am extremely grateful. Of course, I spent the past 30 years building my career to get to this place. But that’s another matter entirely.

Golf is a Network Good

The bigger takeaway, I believe, is that golf—like time and computers—is a network good. Its gift is that it requires carving out non-work time that can be shared with others. I’m incredibly fortunate. I get to tap into that vein during the week. But if you’re part of the normal flow, you owe it to yourself (and others like you) to place a high priority on that time during the weekend.

Admittedly, it was probably easier and more socially acceptable for prior generations to pull this off. The rise of dual income households has made time away from the office even more precious. But if you can’t set aside a few hours each week for, say, nine holes (vs. the conventional 18), then, I humbly suggest, you might want to reexamine your priorities. And if you’re one of those people (most likely American) who doesn’t use up their allotment of vacation time, then God help you. I mean, that’s just plain nuts.

Because, fact is, time is a limited commodity. Each of us gets only so much. And if you’re reading this, then you need to figure out a way to use some of it—each week—to play the game you love with the people who share your passion.

But that’s not just me talking. Now, we have the world of science to back us up!

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