Journal of Happiness Studies

, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 639–655 | Cite as

Does Time Fly When You are Having Fun? A Day Reconstruction Method Analysis

  • Vicki A. FreedmanEmail author
  • Frederick G. Conrad
  • Jennifer C. Cornman
  • Norbert Schwarz
  • Frank P. Stafford
Research Paper


Duration-based measures of happiness from retrospectively constructed daily diaries are gaining in popularity in population-based studies of the hedonic experience. Yet experimental evidence suggests that perceptions of duration—how long an event lasts—are influenced by individuals’ emotional experiences during the event. An important remaining question is whether observational measures of duration outside the laboratory setting, where the events under study are engaged in voluntarily, may be similarly affected, and if so, for which emotions are duration biases a potential concern. This study assesses how duration and emotions co-vary using retrospective, 24-h diaries from a national sample of older couples. Data are from the Disability and Use of Time supplement to the nationally representative U.S. Panel Study of Income Dynamics. We find that experienced wellbeing (positive, negative emotion) and activity duration are inversely associated. Specific positive emotions (happy, calm) are not associated with duration, but all measures of negative wellbeing considered here (frustrated, worried, sad, tired, and pain) have positive correlations (ranging from 0.04 to 0.08; p < .05). However, only frustration remains correlated with duration after controlling for respondent, activity and day-related characteristics (0.06, p < .01). The correlation translates into a potentially upward biased estimate of duration of up to 10 min (20 %) for very frustrating activities. We conclude that estimates of time spent feeling happy yesterday generated from diary data are unlikely to be biased but more research is needed on the link between duration estimation and feelings of frustration.


Subjective well being Day reconstruction method Measurement Older adults Activity duration Time use 



This research was funded by the U.S. National Institute of Health’s National Institute on Aging, P01 AG029409. The views expressed are those of the authors alone and do not represent their employers or funding agency.


  1. Block, R. A. (1990). Models of psychological time. In R. A. Block (Ed.), Cognitive models of psychological time (pp. 1–35). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  2. Block, R. A., George, E. J., & Reed, M. A. (1980). A watched pot sometimes boils: a study of duration experience. Acta Psychologica, 46(2), 81–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2011). American time use survey user’s guide: Understanding ATUS 2003–2009. Accessed 9April, 2012.
  4. Craik, F. I., & Hay, J. F. (1999). Aging and judgments of duration: effects of task complexity and method of estimation. Perception & Psychophysics, 61(3), 549–560.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Dockray, S., Grant, N., Stone, A. A., Kahneman, D., Wardle, J., & Steptoe, A. (2010). A comparison of affect ratings obtained with ecological momentary assessment and the Day Reconstruction Method. Social Indicators Research, 99(2), 269–283.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Droit-Volet, S., & Meck, W. H. (2007). How emotions colour our perception of time. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 11(12), 504–513.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Droit-Volet, S., et al. (2004). Perception of the duration of emotional events. Cognition and Emotion, 18, 849–858.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Fredrickson, B. L., & Kahneman, D. (1993). Duration neglect in retrospective evaluations of affective episodes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65(1), 45–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Freedman, V. A., & Cornman, J. C. (2012). The Panel Study of Income Dynamics’ supplement on Disability and Use of Time (DUST) user guide: Release 2009.1. Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan.Google Scholar
  10. Freedman, V. A., Stafford, F. P., Schwarz, N., Conrad, F. G., & Cornman, J. C. (2012). Disability, participation, and subjective wellbeing among older couples. Social Science & Medicine, 74(4), 588–596.Google Scholar
  11. Gil, S., & Droit-Volet, S. (2008). Time perception, depression and sadness. Behavioural Processes, 80(2), 169–176. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2008.11.012.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gould, W., Pitblado, J., & Poiv, B. (2010). Maximum likelihood estimation with Stata (4th ed.). Texas: Stata Press.Google Scholar
  13. Hancock, P. A., & Rausch, R. (2010). The effects of sex, age, and interval duration on the perception of time. Acta Psychologica, 133(2), 170–179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Kahneman, D., Krueger, A., Schkade, D., Schwarz, M., & Stone, A. (2004). A survey method for characterizing daily life experience. Science, 306, 1176–1780.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kitamura, T., & Kumar, R. (1982). Time passes slowly for patients with depressive state. Acta Psychiatry Scandinavica, 65(6), 415–420.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Krueger, A. (2007). Are we having more fun yet? Categorizing and evaluating changes in time allocation. Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, 2007(2), 193–215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Krueger, A., & Stone, A. A. (2008). Assessment of pain: A community-based diary survey in the USA. Lancet, 371(9623), 1519–1525.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kunzmann, U., Little, T. D., & Smith, J. (2000). Is age-related stability of subjective well-being a paradox? Cross-sectional and longitudinal evidence from the Berlin aging study. Psychology and Aging, 15, 511–526.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Liu, Y., & Wickens, C. D. (1994). Mental workload and cognitive task automaticity: An evaluation of subjective and time estimation metrics. Ergonomics, 37(11), 1843–1854.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Quigley, J. J., Combs, A. L., & O’Leary, N. (1984). Sensed duration of time: Influence of time as a barrier. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 58, 72–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Russell, J. (2003). Core affect and the psychological construction of emotion. Psychological Review, 110(1), 145–172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Schiffman, N., & Greist-Bousquet, S. (1992). The effect of task interruption and closure on perceived duration. Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, 30(1), 9–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Schwarz, N., Kahneman, D., & Xu, J. (2009). Global and episodic reports of hedonic experience. In R. Belli, D. Alwin, & F. Stafford (Eds.), Using calendar and diary methods in life events research (pp. 157–174). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  24. Sévigny, M. C., Everett, J., & Grondin, S. (2003). Depression, attention, and time estimation. Brain and Cognition, 53(2), 351–353.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Stone, A. A., Schwartz, J. E., Schwarz, N., Schkade, D., Krueger, A., & Kahneman, D. (2006). A population approach to the study of emotion: Diurnal rhythms of a working day examined with the Day Reconstruction Method. Emotion, 6(1), 139–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Thayer, S., & Schiff, W. (1975). Eye-contact, facial expression and the experience of time. Journal of Social Psychology, 95(1), 117–124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Weathers, R. (2005). A guide to disability statistics from the American community survey. Ithaca, NY: Employment and Disability Institute, Cornell University.Google Scholar
  28. Yamada, Y., & Kawabe, T. (2011). Emotion colors time perception unconsciously. Consciousness and Cognition: An International Journal, 20(4), 1835–1841.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Zellner, A. (1962). An efficient method of estimating seemingly unrelated regressions and tests for aggregation bias. Journal of the American Statistical Association, 57(298), 348–368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Vicki A. Freedman
    • 1
    Email author
  • Frederick G. Conrad
    • 1
  • Jennifer C. Cornman
    • 2
  • Norbert Schwarz
    • 1
  • Frank P. Stafford
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute for Social ResearchUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  2. 2.Jennifer C. Cornman ConsultingGranvilleUSA

Personalised recommendations