How can we buy happiness by buying time?
Science & Tech / /
According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, you can buy peace of mind and some happiness...if you are only willing to pay someone else to clean up your apartment.
“People are feeling busier today than in past decades. There has been very little recognition that the way we spend our money can shape the way we spend our time,” says study lead author Ashley Whillans. “This is one of the first studies to show that buying ourselves out of negative experiences in our day-to-day lives can also have positive effects above and beyond the money spent,” she adds.
The research was based on over 6,000 Americans, Canadians, Danes, and Dutch people, ranged from working class all the way to millionaires, researching how they allocate their income. What the psychologists found was that among Americans, less wealthy individuals were keen on increased life satisfaction after they delegate out some work.
An additional experiment was launched on a group of 60 Canadians. Each participant one week was given $40 assigned to purchase a material item, and $40 another week, to buy a time-saving service. The scientists concluded that regardless of how useful or socially desirable the purchased item was, the participants felt happier and more satisfied with the time-saving purchase.
On the other side, when psychologists asked 98 other volunteers how they would spend $40, only 2% spontaneously answered that they would buy a time-saving item, showing that we aren't really inclined towards making financial choices that make us happy. Even among millionaires, only around half of the volunteers answered that they spend money on less liked outsourcing tasks.
“It even took me a while as a researcher to see enough data over time to change my own behavior,” says Whillans. “There is an intuition that people want to hold onto money because money is concrete and time is abstract.”
Such a behavior towards less liked outsourcing tasks is understandable, and there are many psychological barriers explaining it.
First, the feeling of guilt. People often feel bad about paying someone else to do things that they are supposed to do, but they don’t like it.
Another barrier is that we are bad at planning ahead.
“We think time has more value now than it does in three months,” explains Whillans. “And if you think about time-saving purchases, we need to think forward in time to know that we’re going to be super stressed out and busy on Saturday to hire a house cleaner in advance.”
What’s more, researchers concluded that the economy is moving towards contract and shift work. Therefore, if more people are using such outsourcing services, not only could it increase the happiness on the side of consumers, but would also provide additional revenues for the providers of these services.
“I know a lot of major companies are doing a lot to try to promote well-being, health, and financial stability for individuals who are providing these services,” says Whillan. “So I think it will be an interesting area of future research; how do these services impact personal well-being, but also how do they impact societal well-being?”