Study: Happy People Buy Time Instead Of Stuff

Image courtesy of Carmela Nava

They say money can’t buy you love — but can it buy happiness? That’s up for debate, but a new study says that using your funds to purchase time — something we all wish we had more of — can lead to increased happiness.

Despite the fact that incomes are rising these days, people can get stressed out when they feel like they don’t have enough time, notes a team of researcher from the University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, but they found that people who spend their money on time-saving services report “greater life satisfaction.”

For example, paying someone else to do household chores like cleaning and cooking, or pick up your dry-cleaning.

While one may think that having a lot of money could offer a way out of the “time famine” of modern life, as researchers put it, some evidence suggests that the wealthy folk often spend time engaging in stressful activities, like shopping or commuting.

“Feelings of time stress are in turn linked to lower well-being, including reduced happiness, increased anxiety, and insomnia,” researchers note, adding that time stress is also a factor in underlying rising rates of obesity: People who don’t have time say that’s the reason they don’t eat healthy foods or exercise regularly.

Survey Says

Researchers surveyed more than 6,000 people from the United States, Denmark, Canada, and the Netherlands. In all samples, respondents completed two questions about whether — and how much — money they spent each month to increase their free time by paying someone else to complete unenjoyable daily tasks.

Respondents also rated their satisfaction with life, and reported their annual household income, the number of hours they work each week, age, marital status, and the number of children living at home.

Across several samples — including adults from the U.S., Canada, Denmark, and a bunch of Dutch millionaires — buying time was linked to greater life satisfaction.

The results held for a wide range of demographics, as well as for the amount that respondents spent on groceries and material and experiential purchases each month.

“These results were not moderated by income, suggesting that people from various socioeconomic backgrounds benefit from making time-saving purchases,” researchers find.

Researchers also conducted a field study in which 60 adults were randomly assigned to spend $40 on a time saving purchase on one weekend, and $40 on a material purchase on another weekend. Results showed that people felt happier when they spent money on a time saving purchase than on a material purchase.

“People who hire a housecleaner or pay the kid next door to mow the lawn might feel like they’re being lazy,” said study lead author Ashley Whillans, assistant professor at Harvard Business School. “But our results suggest that buying time has similar benefits for happiness as having more money.”

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