It’s a common saying that money can’t buy happiness. But what if that conventional wisdom is wrong? A growing body of research suggests that strategically using money to free up time by outsourcing dreaded tasks can indeed increase happiness and wellbeing. Let’s take a closer look at the fascinating findings.

Money can buy happiness. Let me say that again… Money Can Buy Happiness.

Wait a minute. Everyone knows that money can’t buy happiness, and research in the late 1970s tended to confirm this.

But it’s 2024 now, and the culture has shifted. The science is in. Things are different.

A research paper by an international team concluded that you really can make yourself happier by paying other people to do your time-consuming chores. Unlike the hit you get from a new car smell, freeing up more time positively impacts your daily mood.

This isn’t a matter of class. The happiness of farming out unpleasant tasks is found whether you’re rich or poor, the study suggests. If time is in chronic short supply for you, your quality of life satisfaction can be significantly enhanced by trading money for time. Money can buy happiness after all!

This research team, led by academics at the Harvard Business School, compiled survey data from over 4,000 people from the United States, Denmark, Canada, and the Netherlands.1 This is a robust size for a survey, and the quality and reliability of this research are top-shelf. Volunteers were asked whether they hired other people to do “unenjoyable daily tasks” to “increase their free time.”

Lifting the time famine

In 28% of cases, the answer was yes. These folks spent, on average, nearly $150.00 a month to buy themselves extra time.

The researchers discovered that the people who traded money for more time were significantly happier with their lives than those DIY types who didn’t.

They also were less likely to report they felt “time stress,” a condition that previous research has linked with lower levels of life satisfaction.

I like the fact that this international research team experimented with an expanded survey of nearly 2000 Americans, asking them directly if they spend money hiring others to free up their time.

This time, with an expanded question, half of the Americans answered yes. These folks spent between $80 and $99 per month, on average, so that others would handle chores like cleaning, shopping, cooking, and home repairs.

I’m excited about this research because it confirms something that I have suspected for a long time. Many couples we see have unnecessary battles over “who does what.”

The bottom line is that in 2024, the lack of free time remains a profound stressor.

Money can buy happiness, joy, and enthusiasm, too!

The final part of the study was perhaps the most interesting.

Seeking to directly confirm the notion that hiring others to do unpleasant tasks was tantamount to “buying happiness,” the researchers conducted a test with the help of 60 adult workers in Vancouver, Canada.

The research team gifted these volunteers $40 a week to spend. In one week, the researchers asked the volunteers to spend the money on a tangible purchase.

In the next week, they asked the volunteers to invest their $40 on something that would save them time. The researchers then surveyed the volunteers each weekend to compare how they felt after they had spent the money.

The volunteers reported less time-related stress in the week when they made a time-saving purchase than in the week when they made a tangible purchase. They also reported more positive feelings (like joy and enthusiasm) and fewer negative feelings (such as anger, fear, and anxiety) during the week when they bought themselves time.

“Making a time-saving purchase caused improvements in daily mood,” the researchers concluded. “Improvements in daily mood should promote greater life satisfaction.”

In other words, they discovered that money can buy happiness.

Implications for couples therapy

In recent decades, incomes have risen in many countries. But this new wealth has extracted a price, potentially exacerbating a new form of poverty: from Germany to Korea to the United States, people with higher incomes increasingly report experiencing greater time scarcity.

There is a “time famine” for many successful couples. Feelings of time stress are linked to lower well-being, including less happiness, increased anxiety, and insomnia. Time stress is also a critical factor underlying rising rates of obesity: lacking time is often cited as the main reason people report failing to plan healthy meals or get regular exercise.

In theory, rising incomes offer a way out of the “time famine” of modern life, because wealth offers the opportunity to have more free time, such as paying more to live closer to work. However, some evidence suggests that wealthier people spend more time engaging in stressful activities, such as endless meetings, shopping, home maintenance, etc.

Experimental research shows that merely asking people to feel that their time has value, precisely economic value, induces them to think that they do not have enough of it. Many successful people also have a can-do attitude which fails to factor in the value of time. Just because you can do a task doesn’t mean that doing it yourself is in your best interest. Money can buy happiness by outsourcing low-value work for some high-quality time.

The international couples that we work with at Couples Therapy Inc. tend to struggle with the dimension of time. They fight about not having enough time together, over the politics of chores, and the backdrop of exhaustion and irritability is a constant source of tension and stress.

I am an advocate for deconstructing and opening up the “who does what?” question during Couples Therapy Intensives to allow for the notion of hired help. I have long suspected that a “time famine” has been impacting the physical, emotional, and mental health of our clients. Now I have some science to back it up.

The research is clear – strategically using money to buy time by outsourcing unpleasant tasks can increase happiness and reduce stress. For couples struggling to balance career, family, and their relationship, it may be worth considering how purchasing time-saving services could improve quality of life. Buying back precious time to invest in your marriage is one of the best investments you can make. Money may not buy love directly, but it can create the conditions for love and happiness to flourish.



2. Time Famine