Priorities, priorities, priorities. If you could design a schedule for the perfect 16-hour day, what would it look like? How many minutes would you reserve for work, and how many for relaxation? Would you choose to spend more time with friends, or with your family? How many minutes would you spend socializing, and how many minutes having sex?
These were the kinds of questions asked by Dr. Christian Kroll from Jacobs University in Germany and Dr. Sebastian Pokutta from the Georgia Institute of Technology. They collaborated on a study to find out how women related to the different experiences in their daily lives – what activities they regularly performed, how much time they spent on each one, and which activities they enjoyed, and which they didn't.
The study, and its fascinating findings
Kroll and Pokutta chose 909 employed women, with a wide range of ages but an average age of 38, and interviewed them about how they spent their days. What did they spend time on? And how did they feel about it – did they enjoy the activity, or did they just suffer through it and hope it would end? So each activity received not only a "time rating" (how many minutes or hours the women spent on it each day), it also received a "pleasurability rating" (how enjoyable or non-enjoyable it was for them). In general, the researchers found that the women were least happy when commuting to work or at work itself, and most happy when spending time with their significant others and when socializing with their friends.
The researchers then took this data, tweaked it mathematically, and came up with a schedule for the "perfect day," based on a synthesis of the women's answers. Some of their results were surprising in their variety and in their priorities. For example, the highest-ranked activity during the women's "perfect day" would be 106 minutes of sexual intimacy with their husbands or boyfriends. (Reading this, I find myself hoping that the significant others in question have an ample supply of Viagra to keep their…uh…interest up that long every day.)
For those men who might have imagined that shopping would rank high on the list of women's pleasurable activities, another surprise…"shopping time" only ranks in eighth place, at 56 minutes. Even "phone time" ranks higher, at 57 minutes. Numbers two, three, and four in the list were socializing (at 82 minutes), relaxation (at 78 minutes), and eating (at 75 minutes).
Numbers five and six were interesting, especially for readers of a health-oriented forum such as this one. The women would schedule 73 minutes of their "perfect day" for meditation or prayer, and 68 minutes for exercise. Bringing up the bottom of the list were:
• Watching TV – 55 minutes
• Food preparation – 50 minutes
• "Computer time" – 48 minutes
• Housework – 47 minutes
• Childcare – 46 minutes
• Napping – 46 minutes
• Work – 36 minutes
• Commuting – 33 minutes
The researchers realize, of course, that such a list is fictitious, and that even if the women interviewed had the ability to create such a "perfect day," it probably wouldn't work out to be quite as perfect in reality as it is when imagining it. For one thing, working only 36 minutes a day might be an interesting fantasy, but it's not likely to pay the bills. For another, as pointed out by the researchers themselves, "even the most pleasurable activities are usually less enjoyable the longer they last and the more often we do them." So that 106 minutes of sex might turn out to be slightly less enjoyable if done on a daily basis.
The research team sums up their findings and conclusions thusly: "Greater well-being includes spending a little more time with friends, a lot more time with relatives, and a lot less time with the boss and co-workers. A likely, but short-sighted, reaction would be to fully maximize the time spent with intimate relations and minimize the amount of time we spend commuting. But the joy we get out of the first hour of shopping is likely to be greater than during the fifth or sixth hour. Another problem is that certain activities are attractive because we do them so rarely. Scarcity can therefore be expected to be a central feature of why we enjoy intimate relations more than work."
So what would a man's "perfect day" be like?
Naturally, one is tempted to wonder what men's priorities would be, and whether the twain would ever meet if women's "perfect days" were to have to mesh with men's "perfect days." And several writers reporting on this study have gone so far as to speculate what they think a man's ideal schedule might be like.
One (a man) snidely suggested that the biggest discrepancy might be in terms of sex – while women might dream about 106 minutes of sex a day, guys might settle for 5. "Phone time" would also probably not score as highly on men's lists, whereas scratching themselves in public in embarrassing places might make the Top Five. For many single guys, 50 minutes of food preparation is incomprehensible – how long does it take, after all, to nuke a TV dinner? The 82 minutes that the women want to spend socializing might equate to the amount of time each day the guys would want to spend at the pub, but 48 minutes of "computer time" definitely wouldn't be enough for the men, because that's not enough time to play even one decent game of Call Of Duty. As for meditation…well, that's what watching football on TV is for, so the guys would probably be doing more of it than the women.
But whether we're male or female, having the ability to design our "perfect day" isn't likely to be an option for most of anytime soon, unless we win the lottery. So perhaps we should all spend a little bit more time in meditation, and learn to appreciate the schedules we've got rather than trying to invent new ones.