Buy Time, Not Material Goods, to Increase Your Happiness

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“And so my take home message is, ‘think about it, is there something you hate doing that fills you with dread and could you pay somebody else to do that for you?’ If so, then science says that’s a pretty good use of money.”

– Professor Elizabeth W. Dunn

Many of us have a little extra cash each month for fun stuff – whether that’s going to the movies, eating out, or engaging in retail therapy. Turns out the best use of that discretionary income may be to buy time.

“In a series of surveys we find that people who spend money to buy themselves more free time are happier – that is they have higher life satisfaction,” said Dr Elizabeth Dunn.

Dunn, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia, worked with professors at Harvard, Maastricht University, and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

The researchers surveyed more than 6,000 adults (including more than 800 millionaires) in the US, Canada, Denmark and the Netherlands. The researchers learned that those who buy themselves time each month reported greater life satisfaction than the others.

“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.”

– Professor Elizabeth W. Dunn

Next, the researchers engaged 60 working adults in Vancouver, Canada to participate in an experiment. On one weekend, participants spent $40 to save themselves time. These study participants used their money for things like cleaning services, lunch delivery and neighborhood children running errands for them.

On another weekend, they spent the extra cash on material goods, such as wine, clothes and books. Researchers called the study participants at 5:00 PM on each purchasing day, and the participants reported their feelings of positive affect, negative affect, and time stress on that day.

Given these results, you should consider reallocating some of your discretionary income to saving time. If you enjoy weeding or cooking, don’t outsource those tasks, but choose those you dislike.

Perhaps a neighborhood teen can mow your lawn or your can buy precut vegetables to prepare dinner.

Do you use any part of your discretionary income to buy time?


The full text of the study is available at Buying time promotes happiness.


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