Buying time is the key to happiness: Study

18th Aug 2017
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Time is always of the essence, given that we always short on it. The work week passes by in a haze month after month and weekends are spent doing personal or household chores and counting the hours till we are back to the grind. Long work hours, the irresistible lure of the internet and our smartphones, and easy escape offered by alcohol-fuelled Saturday nights leave us with little or no time to travel, read, or simply relax. All of this finally cumulates into unhappiness and disillusionment.

A new study has found a solution for this dilemma of the modern world but it involves spending something else we never have enough of: money.

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

A group of researchers have discovered that spending money to save time reduces stress in our time-constrained lives, thereby improving well-being and happiness. The study, published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was carried out with the intention of establishing a causality between people's spending habits and how they felt. To this end, the researchers conducted a series of surveys with over 6,000 people across the socio-economic spectrum in Canada, Netherlands, Denmark and the USA. In one survey, 4,500 people across the four countries were asked about their spending habits and their life satisfaction. A second survey presented the same question to 1,800 Americans.

In both cases, the study found that those who spend money on time-saving purchases — things like ordering takeout food, hiring someone for an errand, or taking a cab instead of public transport — were happier than those who don't. The study also found that the findings didn't wary across the financial spectrum; the rich and the poor both reported greater levels of life satisfaction when they made time-saving purchases.

“If there’s a task that you just dread, then it’s probably worth considering whether you can afford to buy your way out of it,” Elizabeth Dunn, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and an author of the paper, told the NYT.

The findings seem logically sound. A few decades ago, financial poverty was one of the most debilitating problems the world faced. Today, however, rapidly rising incomes have led to a new poverty: one caused by a lack of time. Working adults spend nearly all their waking hours in stressful activities — shopping, commuting, and even working itself. This leads them to feel that they don't have enough of it and hence causes what the study's authors call 'time-stress'. This, in turn, is linked to lower well-being through increased anxiety, insomnia, unhealthy behaviours and reduced happiness. By spending money to save some much-needed time, people are able to mitigate this stress caused by the feeling of time scarcity and hence lead happier lives.

The study did mention two distinctions however. One, that spending money on materialistic things does not do anything for improving life satisfaction or personal well-being. Two, that the practise of 'buying time' is not too popular despite affordability and easily-available options to do so.

But the conclusion holds. If you're spending your days an unhappy person and have the money to spare (which, let's face it, you will have if you give up a few vices), then spend it on things that save you time. Order groceries online instead of going to a crowded supermarket, take a cab to work instead of a series of buses, and use an assistant service like Haptik for small errands. The options are all there, you just need to make use of them.

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