Though a few extra dollars in your pocket never feels like a bad thing, research has found that at a certain point, a bigger salary won't improve your quality of life. (Mo money, mo problems, as the wise Biggie once said.) But new research illuminates one specific way that money can buy you happiness. You just need to use it to buy yourself time, according to a new study in PNAS covered by The Washington Post.
Previously, studies have found that spending can make us happy in specific instances. Retail therapy is real, though most mall trips don't qualify. A 2016 study found that people who buy things they consider in line with their personalities were happier. Other researchers suggested that spending money on experiences makes people happier than buying new stuff.
This study, led by researchers at Harvard Business School, examined around 6270 people in the U.S., Canada, Denmark, and the Netherlands. By surveying people about their purchases, income, satisfaction with life, and the stresses they felt due to time pressure, they discovered that people who spent money to buy themselves more free time had greater life satisfaction, and that this spending reduced the normal negative effect of time stress. Happiness comes in the form of paying other people to do boring daily chores like cleaning, cooking, and grocery shopping.
This wasn't just true for the wealthy, as The Washington Post notes: "Across a range of incomes, careers, and countries, timesaving purchases were correlated with less time-related stress and more positive feelings."
To confirm that this spending directly led to the uptick in happiness rather than emerged as a side effect of some other factor, the researchers gave 60 working adults in Vancouver two payments of $40 over the course of two weekends. On one weekend, the participants were told to spend the money on something that saved them time. On the other weekend, they were told to spend the $40 on material goods. In post-purchase phone calls, these participants reported greater happiness on the day when they made the time-saving purchase compared to when they made a material purchase.
However, being able to buy a little extra time didn't have an effect on whether people felt stressed out by having too little time. This may be because people who already felt large demands on their time were the most likely to spend money to save themselves just a bit more time in their daily tasks. A CEO might still be stressed out over lack of time, even if she has a personal chef and a housekeeper. Or it could be that humans are just never satisfied.
In any event, it seems that experiences really do buy happiness. That is, the experience of letting someone else do your chores. Want to practice #selfcare? Treat yourself to grocery delivery or a house-cleaning service. I'll be the first to admit that $300 vacuum robot purchase has brought me more happiness than any vacation I've ever been on.
[h/t The Washington Post]