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Rooted in Relationships: Episode 1.4 Ashley Whillans


Rooted in Relationships: Episode 1.4 Ashley Whillans

Resource Audience

Adults Youth Program Leaders Teachers School / Youth Program Staff School / Youth Organization Leaders District Leaders

Resource Type


Read Time

31-60 Minutes

Episode 1.4 - Dr. Ashley Whillans - Creating space for what matters most

In this episode, we talk to Harvard Business School professor Dr. Ashley Whillans about becoming more time smart in order to prioritize those things that bring us life and joy. Dr. Whillan’s insights could not come at a better time for parents, youth workers and teachers that are balancing so much right now in these difficult times. We also discuss the power of generosity and an innovative project with Canadian youth sports to build generosity.

Welcome to the Rooted in Relationships podcast, where we talk with renowned researchers and experts on the scientific insights that can help you build meaningful relationships with young people. Host Benjamin Houltberg is the CEO and President of Search Institute, where research over the past 60 years has found relationships to be the roots all young people need to grow and thrive. In today’s episode, Ben has a conversation with Dr. Ashley Whillans, an expert on how we make decisions with our time and money, and on how these decisions impact our overall wellbeing.

Ashley is a tenure-track faculty member of the Harvard Business School, and she has been published in top-tier journals and featured on prominent press outlets. She recently published a book, Time Smart, and she joins Ben to speak about time management and her research on generosity-building interventions for young people. Before getting into the content of her current projects, though, Ashley shares with Ben about how she developed an interest in the topics she studies. Her path to studying time, money, and happiness was somewhat random, as Ashley started out as an actor. However, she found herself focused on how to help people thrive, use of discretionary income and time, and the work of implementing theory in daily life.

Ashley can also see seeds of her current work present even in her childhood. As a child, she was always documenting things related to money and time, keen on quantifying her daily decisions. At the same time, Ashley was driven to understand and empathize with people. Through some transformational experiences traveling internationally and working with nonprofits, she also grew in her desire to bring positive social change by helping others to help themselves. She aims to use scientific rigor to empower, and sees both the need for this work and potential for great impact in under-resourced areas. Another transformational experience, the death of her same-age cousins who had lived with a form of muscular dystrophy, bolstered her sense of the preciousness of time, and prompted her to write her book.

Turning to the practical side of Ashley’s expertise, Ben asks what advice she would offer to teachers and practitioners working with young people. After warning against the unique dangers of overworking, Ashley defines the concept of time poverty; it is the subjective feeling of having too many things to do and not enough time in which to do them. This subjective feeling is a significant factor in predictions of happiness, and is highly relatable! Working to alleviate time poverty doesn’t have to be a huge shift, though. It can be enough to make small, deliberate choices each day to reclaim some time and bolster happiness. The first thing to do is to look at areas of opportunity and work gently toward breaking unhelpful patterns and maximizing both positive emotions and meaningful activities.

Moving forward, Ben introduces the topic of young people who want to do good but are unfamiliar with what charitable engagement looks like. Ashley has partnered with the Charitable Impact Foundation to think about using technology to make giving charitably a seamless part of young people’s lives. Recently, this effort has made inroads in institutions with the capacity to strengthen this muscle, namely, schools and sports teams. Ashley and her colleagues launched a program at a Vancouver high school that includes conversations around giving and opportunities to give money from endowed charity accounts. This program has provided students with a sense of ownership and intrinsic motivation as givers.

Ashley goes on to explain a similar program implemented among soccer players, a program that has the same pieces in place but also adds an element of students earning part of the money they give. The earning and choosing involved in this giving provide students with a stake both in where the money comes from and determinations about where it goes. As Ashley’s research has corroborated, charitable giving can have a strong impact on a student’s sense of overall well being, allowing them to be autonomous, competent, and connected with those around them.

As the conversation wraps up, Ashley offers final insight and examples about making positive change in one’s use of time. Sometimes, she advises, you need subtraction rather than addition.


0:34 - Ben introduces himself and the podcast.

2:24 - Angela joins the episode and shares about her background.

12:25 - Ben asks about monumental moments in Ashley’s life.

18:23 - Ben wonders what advice Ashley would give to practitioners and teachers.

28:24 - The conversation shifts to generosity-building interventions for young people.

42:11 - The episode wraps up with Ashley’s final input and examples.

Follow Benjamin Houltberg.

Learn more about Search Institute.

Connect with Dr. Ashley Whillans and access her book and other resources.