Researchers Have Found the Best-Kept Secret of Finding Happiness

You've probably heard the expression, "money can't buy happiness." Science has just found an exception.

Even if you’ve got plenty of money, you’re probably short on time, but what if money could buy time?

That’s what researchers from Harvard University, the University of British Columbia, and two institutes in the Netherlands were looking to find out in their recent study, published in the PNAS journal. They concluded that people who “buy themselves time” are more satisfied with life. Buying time means paying someone to knock things off your to-do list—like household chores, yard work, errands—freeing you to stress less and feel more positive. Specific activities people outsourced in the study were cooking, shopping, and general home maintenance. You could also budget for a meal delivery service, have a housekeeper even once a month, or pay for lawn care. (These 50 tiny changes will make you a happier person.)

For the study, the researchers conducted surveys with over 6,000 people in four different countries. The surveys asked people if they regularly paid someone to complete daily tasks they found to be unpleasant and then how satisfied they were with their lives. What they found: People who regularly spent their money to save time—regardless of income, hours worked per week, number of children, or marital status—had overall higher life satisfaction.

Money-Can-Buy-Happiness-If-You-Spend-It-Like-THISMinerva Studio/shutterstock

The scientists then gave 60 working adults $40 to spend over each of two weekends. They asked participants to spend money on a material purchase for one weekend and then a time-saving service on another weekend. Participants reported that their time-saving purchases led to positive effects and less stress despite how special their material purchase was.

Researchers were surprised to find that the strategy of “buying time” for happiness seems to be a well-kept secret. When they asked a group of 98 working adults how they would spend $40, only 2 percent mentioned the idea of buying time. That’s significant because time is scarcer than ever: In 2017, most people and cultures are leading a constantly busy lifestyle, according to The Economist. And people who feel they don’t have enough time tend to experience anxiety, obesity, insomnia, and other health issues. (Don’t miss Einstein’s genius secret to happiness.)

“People are notoriously bad at making decisions that will make them happier,” Ashley Whillans, the study’s lead author, told The Washington Post. She suspects the abstract nature of time may be to blame. “We always think we’re going to have more time tomorrow than we do right now,” she said, so we’re hesitant to trade money, which is concrete and measurable, for time, which is much more uncertain.

Buying time changes our lives for the better, but if money is tight, there are still ways to score more time. For example, if you make dinner, have someone else do the dishes. If someone cleans your home, maybe you could drive them to a few places or cook them a meal. Once you’re cooking, you could double the portion for your neighbor and have them return the favor another night.

The key here is finding ways to balance your life and manage tasks that are unpleasant to you or that suck up your time and add unnecessary stress. It’s also important to get rid of stigmas around paying someone for help. Yes, you can clean your own place, but think of what you could do if someone took some of those stresses off your hands.

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