TORONTO: Buying free time – such as by paying to get household chores done – boosts life satisfaction, according to a research which challenges the age-old adage that money can not buy happiness.
“People who hire a housecleaner or pay the kid next door to mow the lawn might feel like they’re being lazy,” said Ashley Whillans, assistant professor at Harvard Business School in the US.
“But our results suggest that buying time has similar benefits for happiness as having more money,” said Whillans.
The researchers surveyed more than 6,000 adults in the US, Denmark, Canada and the Netherlands.
Respondents were asked if and how much they spent each month to buy themselves free time. They also rated their life satisfaction, and answered questions about feelings of time stress.
Respondents who spent money on time saving purchases reported greater life satisfaction. The effect held up even after controlling for income.
“The benefits of buying time aren’t just for wealthy people,” said Elizabeth Dunn, professor at University of British Columbia in Canada.
“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,” said Dunn.
To test whether buying time actually causes greater happiness, the researchers also conducted a field experiment.
Sixty adults were randomly assigned to spend $40 on a time saving purchase on one weekend, and $40 on a material purchase on another weekend.
The results revealed that people felt happier when they spent money on a time saving purchase than on a material purchase.
Despite the benefits, the researchers were surprised to discover how few people choose to spend their money on time saving purchases in daily life.
Even in a sample of 850 millionaires who were surveyed, almost half reported spending no money outsourcing disliked tasks.
A survey of 98 working adults asked how they would spend a windfall of $40 also revealed that only two per cent would use it in a way that saved them time.
“Although buying time can serve as a buffer against the time pressures of daily life, few people are doing it even when they can afford it,” said Dunn.
“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,” she said.