Science Says You Can Buy Happiness (By Buying Free Time)

They say you can’t buy happiness… but is that really true? We already know that buying a bunch of stuff throughout your life doesn’t mean that you end up a happier person—and can even lead to developing unhealthy shopping dependencies that give us a quick rush, but no long-lasting satisfaction. But stuff isn’t the only thing money can buy. New research suggests that buying more free time could be a helpful self-care and happiness-boosting measure.

A new study by researchers at the University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School shed light on this interesting phenomenon. By surveying over 6,000 adults in the United States, Denmark, Canada and the Netherlands, they discovered a trend: those who forked over some cash for “time-saving purchases” reported greater life satisfaction. Such purchases included hiring a housekeeper or throwing a few bucks at the neighbor kid to mow the lawn so these folks didn’t have to do it themselves.

An additional field experiment was conducted wherein $40 was given to participants to spend on time-saving purchases one week and another $40 was given to them to spend on a material purchase the next week. The respondents reported a higher level of happiness after spending their dough on purchases that freed up their free time.

Even more fascinating was how the research held up across socioeconomic levels. “The benefits of buying time aren’t just for wealthy people,” Elizabeth Dunn, lead study author and UBC psychology professor told Science Daily. “We thought the effects might only hold up for people with quite a bit of disposable income, but to our surprise, we found the same effects across the income spectrum.”

Sadly, the researchers also discovered that not nearly enough people are taking advantage of their ability to buy happiness through buying more free time—at any socioeconomic level. Even a group of 850 millionaires revealed how only half of them spent their money on paying someone else to do their least favorite tasks. “Lots of research has shown that people benefit from buying their way into pleasant experiences, but our research suggests people should also consider buying their way out of unpleasant experiences,” said Dunn.

So, how can someone take advantage of this effect if they don’t have a lot of money to spend? Enlisting the help of youngsters in the family or the neighborhood can be one place to start! Giving preteens the chance to practice for their first “real world” job by having them water the plants, mow the lawn, walk the dog or help you wash the car in exchange for a fair fee is a great opportunity for them and for you. If you can afford to have a housekeeper deep clean your home or apartment once a year, it could potentially save you hours of feeling miserable and free you up to take on more fun activities. Delegating tasks to other household members or finding new ways to divvy up the load could also boost your happiness level. Many of us have people in our lives who are always offering to help us out, too—how often do you take them up on that offer?

The bottom line is: it is important to ensure our life satisfaction and happiness are being taken care of, just like our physical health. Make time for yourself in whatever ways you can afford. Science says you won’t regret it.


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