Volunteers who used money to save themselves time were more content than volunteers who purchased themselves physical stuff. Karen Hopkin reports.
We all know money can’t buy happiness. But according to a recent study, there may be a loophole. A team of researchers finds that shelling out for services that save time can bring greater feelings of life satisfaction than, say, simply buying more stuff. The results appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. [Ashley V. Whillans et al., Buying time promotes happiness]
It’s safe to say that most of us regularly feel crunched for time. So much so that we are experiencing what Ashley Whillans of the Harvard Business School, the lead author of the study, describes as a “time famine.” And like any famine, this chronic lack of time takes its toll on our health.
“When we feel like our to-do lists are longer than the hours that we have time in the day to complete them, we can feel like our life is spiraling out of control, thereby undermining our personal well-being.”
Well, if time is money, Whillans and her team wondered whether money that’s used to buy time could offer some relief. Like paying someone else to clean the house, mow the lawn, or deliver the groceries.
To find out, the researchers asked more than 6,000 people from the U.S., Canada, Denmark, and the Netherlands to rate their overall satisfaction with life, and to estimate how much money they lay out each month to outsource unenjoyable daily tasks or otherwise purchase some time off.
And they found that respondents who willingly swap funds for free time also report feeling more content—regardless of their income or how many hours they work each week.
To follow up, the researchers conducted a smaller experiment in which they gave volunteers forty bucks to buy a little something for themselves. The same participants got another forty dollars that they were told to spend on something that would save them time. And again, buying time was more likely to elevate mood and alleviate anxiety.
These findings may be hard for some people to, well, buy:
“Even in a sample of 850 millionaires, just over half of our respondents spent money to buy themselves time. These findings link to a broader literature suggesting that we do not always spend money in ways that promote happiness.”
Even when we should know better.
“Personally I know that when I recently moved to a new city I had a lot of errands to run. I had to let my own data convince me that buying time would make my life easier, less stressful and happier.”
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]