Updated: Apr 6
All of us like being happy, and want to be happy, but does anyone truly know how to be happy? Well, a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences claims to have found a simple and effective method-- "buy back" your free time by paying others to do things for you. (Don't worry, it's not as expensive as it sounds.)
Study authors noted that, "Around the world, increases in wealth have produced an unintended consequence: a rising sense of time scarcity." Stress about insufficient time has been linked to lower well-being, including reduced happiness, insomnia, and increased anxiety. A lack of time is also a primary reason people cite for not eating healthy foods or exercising regularly, making it a critical underlying factor for rising rates of obesity.
With data from seven studies involving 6,000 working adult respondents in several countries, the authors provided evidence that using money to buy time promotes happiness by creating a buffer against "time famine." Respondents who spent money on a time-saving purchase such as ordering takeout, hiring household help, taking a cab, or paying someone to run an errand, reported significantly reduced time pressure, improved daily mood, and greater life satisfaction. The study also suggests a cumulative, day-to-day benefit provided by the reductions in stress from time-saving purchases.
This effect was observed at all levels of the above-poverty income spectrum, with no consistent evidence limiting its benefits to relatively wealthy people. In fact, within the United States samples, a stronger relationship between buying time and life satisfaction was observed among less-affluent individuals.
To establish causality, a smaller experiment within the study provided participants with $40 on consecutive weekends to spend as directed, either on a purchase that would save them time or a material purchase. As predicted, "buying time" was associated with reduced time-related stress and increased well-being, while material purchases did not have the same effect.
Despite its benefits, "buying time" is not as popular as might be expected, even among the very wealthy. For example, a survey of more than 800 Dutch millionaires showed just over half did not spend any money on time-saving purchases or to outsource disliked tasks. Elizabeth Dunn, Professor of Psychology at the University of British Columbia and an author of the paper, ventured a guess as to why: "We want to seem like we have it all together and we might be therefore resistant to spending money on timesaving purchases even when we can afford it."
Professor Dunn also suggested, "If there’s some task that just thinking about it fills you with dread, then it’s probably worth considering whether you can afford to buy your way out of it.”