Do [people] achieve the optimal allocation of [their] time…? My answer is no; people allocate a disproportionate amount of time to the pursuit of pecuniary rather than nonpecuniary objectives, as well as to “comfort” and positional goods, and shortchange goals that will have a more lasting effect on well-being[.]
This misallocation occurs because, in making decisions about how to use their time, individuals take their aspirations as fixed at their present levels,and fail to recognize that aspirations may change because of hedonic adaptation and social comparison. In particular, people make decisions assuming that more income, comfort, and positional goods will make them happier, failing to recognize that hedonic adaptation and social comparison will come into play, raise their aspirations to about the same extent as their actual gains, and leave them feeling no happier than before.
As a result, most individuals spend a disproportionate amount of their lives working to make money, and sacrifice family life and health, domains in which aspirations remain fairly constant as actual circumstances change, and where the attainment of one’s goals has a more lasting impact on happiness.
Hence, a reallocation of time in favor of family life and health would, on average, increase individual happiness.
Richard Easterlin, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences