Study finds that you can buy hap­pi­ness — if you spend it on free time

The Hamilton Spectator - - HEALTH - SETH BOREN­STEIN

Yes, you can buy hap­pi­ness — es­pe­cially if the money saves you time.

Peo­ple who dole out cash to save time on things like house­keep­ing, delivery ser­vices and taxis are a lit­tle bit hap­pier than those who don’t, new re­search finds.

Re­searchers sur­veyed more than 6,000 peo­ple in four coun­tries and also ran an ex­per­i­ment, giv­ing peo­ple $40 for two weeks. One week, they had to buy some­thing ma­te­rial, like a shirt. The next week, they paid to save them­selves time. Peo­ple said they felt hap­pier af­ter sav­ing time than buy­ing stuff.

“Money can buy hap­pi­ness if you spend it right,” said Uni­ver­sity of Bri­tish Columbia psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor El­iz­a­beth Dunn, coau­thor of a study in Mon­day’s Pro­ceed­ings of the Na­tional Acad­emy of Sci­ences.

The right way is pay­ing some­one else to do the time-con­sum­ing drudge work that you don’t like, said study lead au­thor Ash­ley Whillans at the Har­vard Busi­ness School. When peo­ple do that, they re­port feel­ing greater life sat­is­fac­tion in gen­eral and hap­pier that day. But when they buy ma­te­rial ob­jects, it tends not to bring peo­ple the hap­pi­ness they ex­pect, she said.

Lynda Jones, a re­tired crit­i­cal care nurse in In­di­anapo­lis, has been hir­ing a house­keeper since she got out of col­lege and said it’s the one thing that kept her from burn­ing out in the high stress job. Now she also has a gro­cery delivery ser­vice.

“It’s re­ally not that ex­pen­sive when you think about what my time costs,” Jones said Mon­day. “You can al­ways get money. You can’t buy back time.”

Ear­lier re­search found that us­ing money to help others or have good ex­pe­ri­ences — like a spa day or travel — also make peo­ple hap­pier than buy­ing things, Dunn and Whillans said.

The sur­vey was done in the United States, Canada, Den­mark and the Nether­lands. Ex­cept for the U.S., the coun­tries rank near the top of global hap­pi­ness re­ports. In gen­eral, buy­ing time in­creases Amer­i­cans hap­pi­ness about 0.77 on a 10-point scale, with sim­i­lar in­creases in the other coun­tries, Dunn said. That may not seem like much but it is sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant, Whillans said.

In­come doesn’t mat­ter. Rich or poor, spend­ing money to save time seems to make peo­ple hap­pier, Whillans said. And if any­thing, the data sug­gested that peo­ple with less money were able to get a big­ger hap­pi­ness boost from time-sav­ing pur­chases than those with more, she said. Yet, only 28 per cent of the peo­ple sur­veyed spent money to save time, an av­er­age of $148 per month.

In the $40 ex­per­i­ment, the re­searchers picked 60 peo­ple at a Cana­dian sci­ence mu­seum. When the peo­ple spent the money on things, their av­er­age hap­pi­ness score was 3.7 on a five-point scale. But when they spent it to pay a neigh­bour’s kids to do yard­work or get lunch de­liv­ered or take a taxi rather than a bus, their score av­er­aged 4, a small but sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence, said Dunn, coau­thor of the book, “Happy Money: The Sci­ence of Hap­pier Spend­ing.”

Not only is the phrase “money can’t buy hap­pi­ness” wrong but so is “time is money,” Dunn said. Ear­lier stud­ies show peo­ple are less likely to vol­un­teer their time or help the en­vi­ron­ment when they think of time as money, she said. Out­side re­searchers in hap­pi­ness praised the re­search.

“Re­search shows that peo­ple in rich nations are more stressed than peo­ple in poor ones, which at first does not seem to make sense. But part of the stress is this time pres­sure — too much to do and one can­not get ev­ery­thing done,” said hap­pi­ness re­searcher Ed­ward Diener at the Uni­ver­sity of Illi­nois. “So buy­ing time through pur­chases makes a lot of sense.”

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