Buying Time Increases Happiness

Time versus money

Time is one of our most valuable resources, and sometimes money is the tool that allows us to buy more time with our families or to do things we enjoy. Does it increase happiness? Researchers took a look and found it does.

This was the primary finding of a study by University of British Columbia psychology professor Elizabeth Dunn and other researchers published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Dunn is also the co-author of “Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending,” and she says that the old saying, “money can’t buy happiness” is a bit misleading. She found that if you buy yourself out of doing something that either makes you miserable or takes time away from what you love to do, it can make you happier.

Dunn also measured “time stress,” or the amount of stress felt over not having enough time in the day to do what needs to get done. People who feel more pressed for time are less satisfied with life. But when people of all income levels use money to buy time, that time stress disappears.

The discovery

The study’s authors surveyed 6,000 people at diverse income levels in multiple countries, including the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, and Denmark. The surveys asked whether people spent money on a monthly basis to hire others to take care of unpleasant or time-consuming daily tasks or chores — such as cleaning, yard work, cooking, and errand-running — and if so, how much they spent. Respondents were also asked to rate their “satisfaction with life” and report demographic information, such as their income level and whether they were married and had children.

Researchers found that across all national samples, those who spent money to give themselves more time reported higher life satisfaction ratings. This was consistent across income spectrums; in fact, in the United States, researchers found a stronger correlation among the less-affluent respondents.

Across all studies, those who spent money to outsource disliked tasks and/or save time had a stronger life satisfaction rating. The authors noted, however, that their studies did not include enough people at the lowest end of the income spectrum to attribute similar findings to this group.

Of course, correlation does not necessarily indicate causality, so the researchers designed a follow-up experiment to further test their hypothesis.

In this experiment, researchers gave a group of 40 adults $80 each to spend over the course of two weekends. During the first weekend, they were to spend $40 on something that would save them time, such as ordering groceries online and having them delivered. On the second weekend, they were directed to spend $40 on a nice material purchase, such as clothes, board games, or a bottle of wine. On average, those who spent money to save time reported better moods at the end of the day than those who purchased material goods. And according to the researchers, over time, the effect of regular mood boosts can add up to greater overall satisfaction with life.

The lesson

In the report, the study’s authors contend that increased happiness from spending money to free oneself from tedious tasks may be especially true for women:

“Within many cultures, women may feel obligated to complete household tasks themselves, working a ‘second-shift’ at home, even when they can afford to pay someone to help. In recent decades, women have made gains, such as improved access to education, but their life satisfaction has declined; increasing uptake of time-saving services may provide a pathway toward reducing the harmful effects of women’s second shift.”

The bottom line? If you can afford it, don’t shy away from spending money to save time. It’s an investment that provides immeasurable returns in the form of overall well-being.

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