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The secret to happiness is in time-saving purchases, UBC study concludes

The secret to happiness

The secret to happinessIs there a secret to happiness?

New research out of the University of British Columbia finds that, contrary to popular wisdom, money can buy you happiness —in the form of extra time to do the things you want.

Time poverty, as it has come to be known, has become a real issue in the modern world, even as people across the developed world are experiencing higher incomes and less poverty.

A recent poll of 1,000 working professionals in the United States found that 45 per cent of workers feel that they don’t have enough free time, with part of the blame placed on technology: a full 65 per cent of people say they’re expected to be available outside of work both by email and by phone. An Economist report from last year found 60 per cent of workers who use smartphones are “connected” to their jobs for over 13 hours a day.

But higher salaries and more disposable incomes should translate into more free time, not less, say the authors of a new study, who found that by using money to buy free time (through paying someone to do your housework, for example, or mow your lawn), you can increase your life satisfaction.

Using survey data from more than 6,000 adults in the US, Denmark, Canada and the Netherlands, the study quizzed respondents on how much money they spent each month on time-saving services and asked them to rate their life satisfaction and stress levels. The results showed that those who spent more on time-savers reported greater life satisfaction, a conclusion that did not depend upon respondents’ income level.

“The benefits of buying time aren’t just for wealthy people,” said UBC psychology professor and the study’s senior author Elizabeth Dunn, in a statement. “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.”

The trick, say the researchers, is that not only does it free up the schedule to get someone else to shovel your snow or mow you grass allowing you to ease up the stress burden, but buying time-savers gives you the feeling of more autonomy and control over your day, a satisfying feeling in itself.

“Buying time may serve as a buffer against the negative effects of time stress in part by enhancing perceived control,” say the study’s authors. “People often complain of being in a time bind not only because they are objectively busy, but also because they perceive a lack of control over their time.”

The researchers also conducted a smaller field experiment, giving sixty adults $40 extra dollars to spend on a material purchase on weekend and a time-saving purchase another weekend. Afterwards, the participants reported feeling happier with spending the money on time-savers.

The results jibe with the currently evolving trend which sees consumers moving away from purchasing things and gravitating more towards experiential purchases such as social and cultural events and travel. The movement is said to be especially evident among millennials, who are said to be fuelling the “experiential economy.”

The new study is published in the journal PNAS.

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About The Author /

Jayson is a writer, researcher and educator with a PhD in political philosophy from the University of Ottawa. His interests range from bioethics and innovations in the health sciences to governance, social justice and the history of ideas.
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