Turns out that money can buy happiness
If you were given $40 on the condition that you had to spend it on something that would make you really happy, what would you do with the money? Some people might go shopping, others would treat themselves to dinner or a movie, a few might even donate to cause. But what about using that $40 to buy yourself more free time?
According to a study published Monday in the journal PNAS, people who buy time by paying someone to do household tasks are more satisfied with life. And it’s not just wealthy people. Across a range of incomes, careers and countries, timesaving purchases were correlated with less time-related stress and more positive feelings.
Yet the researchers’ surveys showed that very few individuals think to spend money in this way.
Ashley Whillans, a social psychologist and the study’s lead author, says she is “totally obsessed” with people’s decisions of whether to place more value in time or money.
Whillans and her colleagues at Harvard University collaborated with researchers at the University of British Columbia and two institutes in the Netherlands to conduct seven surveys of more than 6,000 respondents in four countries. The surveys asked people whether they regularly pay someone else to complete unpleasant daily tasks and rated their satisfaction with life.
Across all surveys, life satisfaction was typically higher for people who regularly spend money to save time. This was true regardless of household income, hours worked per week, marital status and number of children living at home.
Even after controlling for total disposable income by comparing the amount participants spend on necessary purchases such as groceries, unnecessary purchases and life experiences, working adults in the U.S. reported higher life satisfaction if they regularly paid to outsource household tasks such as cooking, shopping and general maintenance.
To directly test whether timesaving purchases can boost happiness, the scientists in the latest research recruited 60 working adults in Vancouver and gave them $40 on each of two consecutive weekends. They were told to spend the money on a material purchase one weekend and a timesaving service another weekend (in varying order).
Compared with the days when they bought stuff, most participants reported that their timesaving purchases were accompanied by an increased positive effect, a decreased negative effect and less time stress.
Despite this, when researchers asked another group of 98 working adults in Vancouver how they would spend $40, only 2 percent mentioned buying themselves more time.
Sanford DeVoe, who was not involved with the study, called this a “really stunning finding.” DeVoe, a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, studies the psychological effects of placing a monetary value on time. He was struck by the fact that even people who can clearly afford to don’t outsource excess work. This adds to a growing body of evidence showing that “people don’t spend their money to yield the greatest happiness,” he said.
Most adults feel they are short on time, and many cite the same as a reason for anxiety, insomnia and even obesity. So why are we so reluctant to consider investing in time capital?
“People are notoriously bad at making decisions that will make them happier,” Whillans said. She suspects the abstract nature of time may be to blame. “We always think we’re going to have more time tomorrow than we do right now.”
Researchers say that letting Blue Apron send you a meal to cook, which saves you time in a grocery store, makes you happier.