They say money can’t buy happiness. But apparently it can, depending on how you spend it.
Researchers have found that people who used their hard-earned cash to buy leisure time by paying someone else to do daily chores such as house cleaning, lawn mowing or cooking, reported greater satisfaction with life than those who did not, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Those findings were based on surveys of more than 6,000 people from the United States, Denmark, Canada and the Netherlands. And, no matter how wealthy a person was, buying free time made them feel better.
Along with the surveys, the team of researchers also performed an experiment that showed people felt better if they put discretionary money toward buying time rather than material purchases.
“I was not surprised that using money to buy time promotes happiness,” said study co-author Elizabeth Dunn, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and co-author of “Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending."
What did surprise Dunn and her colleagues was the number of people who opted not to buy time. “Even when we surveyed over 800 millionaires in the Netherlands, almost half reported not spending money to pay someone to do things they didn’t want to do,” she said.
Once the researchers had their survey data in hand, they decided to perform a quick experiment to see if they could prove that it really was the purchase of time making people happier.
They rounded up 60 working adults who had brought their kids to a local science museum. In the first week of the experiment, the parents were given $40 and told to spend it on some sort of material purchase for themselves. Later the same day, the study volunteers were called by a researcher who interviewed them and asked among other things about their mood and time-related stress. The next week the volunteers were given another $40 and told to make a purchase that would save them time. Again they were called and interviewed later in the day.
Sure enough, when people made time-saving purchases they were happier than when they made material purchases.
Dunn suspects that many people don’t pay to get more free time because of cultural expectations. She’s hoping that studies like hers “may provide people with a sense that it’s not being lazy to buy time, but instead, it’s a good strategy supported by science for promoting life satisfaction.”
One very interesting aspect of the study is the finding that buying time made people happier no matter what their income level was, said Ryan Howell, an assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University.
Studies like this really do help people understand the value of certain types of purchases, whether they are for time or for experiences, such as vacations, Howell said. “People tend to underestimate the benefits,” he said.
It would be interesting to find out what people did with the time they bought, Howell said. “If they had someone come and clean the house, what did they do with their extra time?”