Does being rich make you happier? The answer seems obvious — of course it does! Anyone who has ever been poor knows that poverty is miserable. Financial comfort is much more fun. So surely, true wealth must be even better?

It turns out that, like most things in life, the answer is complicated. In 2010, a widely publicized study by top economists at Princeton suggested that $75,000 annual income was the magic number. Up to that figure, more money made you happier, but above that, your level of happiness would plateau. However, later studies have challenged that finding. A recent study from Wharton found that happiness continues to increase with higher income, even past the $75K cut-off. The challenge, of course, lies in how to define and measure happiness.

Leading business consultant Alan Weiss has proposed that you should measure your wealth not by how much money you have, but by how much discretionary time you have. Is your time and energy consumed by the pursuit of money, or are you able to spend time doing what you love with people you love?

Which leads me to the question: Is there an ideal amount of discretionary time to maximize your happiness? Or, put another way: Is there an optimal number of hours you should devote to work every day?

There is a magic number for happy workdays

It turns out that some crafty researchers have looked into this question as well. The answer is no more than 7.6, according to recent research.

(If you are a fan of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, this number may remind you of the number 42. It seems random, but it’s very important.) 

People who work more than 7.6 hours a day, or 38 hours a week, feel rushed all the time and are significantly stressed. In cross-cultural research, countries with shorter workweeks, like Denmark, consistently rank as the happiest countries. 

What this means for effective workload management across your team

If you are a manager, you may be thinking, “Too bad. I can’t afford to have my people working a shorter workweek.” But the benefit of a shorter workweek isn’t just increased happiness. Believe it or not, productivity falls when people work longer hours, especially when they go over 50 hours a week. Not hourly productivity — overall productivity. People working those long hours are not only unhappier, they’re getting less done.

If you’re an employee, you may be thinking, “There’s no way I can shorten my work week to under 40 hours.” And you may be right. But I bet you could shorten your work week by an hour or two if you put your mind to it. 

What buys happiness? It seems that the formula includes financial comfort and plenty of discretionary time. Sounds good to me.

Want to make your day even better? Consider my 12-part checklist for the perfect work day

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