Can Money Buy Happiness?

Revised 1/4/20

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 has tended to confirm this.

But it’s 2017 now, and the culture has shifted. The science is in. Things are different.

A hot off the press research paper by an international research team has 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. This happiness of farming out unpleasant tasks is found whether you’re rich or poor, the new 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. 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.”

money can buy happiness 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 more happy 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 satisfaction with life.

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 we now understand that in 2017, the lack of free time is a profound stressor.

money can buy happiness

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 more direct test with the help of 60 adult workers in Vancouver, Canada.

The research team gifted these volunteers $40 a week to spend. In one of the weeks, 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 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 said 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, it seems that they discovered that Money Can Buy Happiness.

money can buy happiness

Implications of This Research 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, in turn, linked to lower actual 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 that 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 out-sourcing 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.

Buy Some Happiness. It’s Time To Take Care of Your Marriage.

Ready for a change in your relationship?

It starts with a no-obligation 15 minute phone call with our client services team.

Daniel Dashnaw

Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist and the blog editor. He currently works with couples online and in person. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and Developmental Models in his approaches. Daniel specializes in working with neurodiverse couples, couples that are recovering from an affair, and couples struggling with conflict avoidant and passive aggressive behavior patterns.

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