Graduate school, working on my second masters, was one of the busiest times in my life. The program required relevant work experience, 20 hours a week, and a full load of classes, all of which required research and numerous written papers much longer than I was used to writing. A little time to be idle would have been welcome.

John Robinson, a University of Maryland sociologist recently interviewed on NPR, has studied the relationship between how people view their time and happiness and came upon a finding we wouldn’t expect. Robinson asks people, “Would you say that you always feel rushed, only sometimes feel rushed or almost never feel rushed?” and “How often do you have time on your hands that you don’t know what to do with: most of the time, some of the time, none of the time?” He’s found that what we often think will make us happy, lots of extra time, won’t. The happiest are those who report never feeling rushed, but not having any extra time.

For those of us bound by a job we have to be physically present at in the morning, we can easily understand how feeling rushed decreases our happiness. The 15 minutes before my husband and I get out the door in the morning is the least happy part of our marriage. So we would assume that extra time would translate to greater happiness. Though too much time could signify a lack of activities from which we find purpose. Perhaps those who report no extra time are exceptionally good at finding activities they find meaningful.

Fulfillment is not only the way we spend our time, but the way we perceive it. Looking back at graduate school, through all the stress, it was one of the happier times in my life.