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The One Time When Money Really Can Buy You Happiness

We’ll be doing this more often.

Image courtesy of Unsplash.

As the saying goes, money can’t buy you happiness. Research even suggests that our happiness levels plateau at a certain income level. But according to a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers at Harvard Business School and the University of British Columbia found that money can buy you happiness—if you’re buying yourself more free time.

Surveying more than 6,000 adults from the United States, Canada, Denmark and the Netherlands, the researchers asked participants to rate their happiness and stress levels, as well as share how much money they spent each month to buy themselves more free time. The study revealed that those who spent more money on services that would save them time and energy—like home cleaning services, landscaping, etc.—reported higher levels of happiness and life satisfaction than those who completed these types of tasks themselves. These results held true regardless of participants’ income levels, meaning it wasn’t just people with money to burn who benefitted from paying to get their time back.

The researchers then conducted a smaller experiment. Arming 60 participants with a budget of $80 each, researchers asked them to make two purchases: $40 on a service that would save them free time and the $40 on a material purchase. Subjects said they felt greater levels of satisfaction after purchasing a helpful service than an object.

Surprisingly, the researchers also discovered that despite the benefits of offloading your less-than-enjoyable activities, most people don’t do it—even millionaires who likely have money to spare. (Yes, the researchers actually surveyed 850 millionaires, according to the study’s press release.) Most people were more likely to complete unpleasant or menial tasks themselves rather than paying a third party to do them.

Lead UBC researcher Elizabeth Dunn summed the findings up nicely: “Lots of research has shown that people benefit from buying their way into pleasant experiences, but our research suggests people should also consider buying their way out of unpleasant experiences,” Dunn said.

If you’re plagued by thoughts of your overgrown lawn, struggling to keep the house looking presentable or stressed by any other task you could potentially outsource, consider bringing in some help. It may be a small price to pay for happiness.

Read the full study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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