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Use Your Hard-Earned Money to Buy Yourself a More Happier Time

Insights from a Harvard Professor's research on time-money trade-offs we make.

There is enough research done to prove that

“We have more leisure time today, than what we did a few years back.”

As a matter of fact, John Maynard Keynes, a renowned economist, predicted in 1930 that within a century, we would work only 15 hours a week.

Sure enough, we saw the rise of technology and machinery. Finally, the messiah had arrived and would help us liberate ourselves from the daily drudgery of time-consuming hard work.

However, between you and me, do you really feel that you have enough leisure time in the day? 

Maybe. But then there is that pile of unwashed clothes, soiled utensils and a hundred other household chores that are just waiting for you to get free. 

Worst of all is the traffic commute. It was supposed to be a wonderful Sunday afternoon spent reading in your favourite cafe with a cup of Hazelnut Cappuccino. Instead you have spent half of it watching the bumper of the car in front of you and cursing out loud. 

If you are nodding your head right now, then you are not alone. There is also enough research done to show that most people perceive that they are busier today than ever.

In all this chaotic busyness of our lives, how are we supposed to carve out actual leisure time for ourselves? 

More importantly, how do we ensure that our leisure time is spent in happier pursuits?

Ashley Whillans, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, had the same questions. 

And for the collective benefit of us all, it seems that she found the answers. 

Can Money Actually Buy You Happiness?

Didn’t Benjamin Franklin settle the debate once and for all when he categorically said that money can’t buy us real internal happiness?

Apparently not.

Ashley researches the trade-offs we make between time and money — and says we often get those wrong. Consequently, we end up being more busy and less happy.

“My research really focuses on how we can use our money to buy ourselves out of negative experiences.”

If we keep a diary of how we have spent each minute of our day, the results would be not what you expected. 

We might be surprised to see the high number of minutes we spend in doing mundane, time-killing, zero value-adding tasks. Not just that, but some tasks actually make us feel stressed and contribute negatively to our mental well being. 

You just have to imagine your morning commute in the heavy traffic for that. 

Professor Ashley Whillans says we should spend more money not just on things we like, but to get us out of things we don’t enjoy, like house cleaning, laundry, and commuting.

“Any occasion where spending our money results in us saving more time — such as also buying ourselves into positive experiences — has reliable and positive effects on the happiness that we get from our days, our weeks, our months and our lives.”

So, how do we do this?

What steps can we take today that help us subtract negative minutes and add more positive minutes into our lives?

How to Find a Happier Time for Ourselves?

The first step is to make a list. 

Take a piece of paper and draw a vertical line in the middle. Label one side as Negative Experiences and one side as Positive Experiences.

From the moment your day starts, make a note of the activities you do and list them down based on how they make you feel. 

Here is how I did it.

The first thing I do after waking up is put on some ambient morning music and make myself a cup of tea. It’s an activity I really enjoy. So, I listed it down under Positive Experiences. 

I usually drive to work. It’s 10 in the morning, which means rush hour traffic. It’s stressful and it makes me irritated. So I list it down under the Negative Experience column.  

And so on. 

By the end of the day, you would know what makes you happy and what makes you stressed. 

Once you have a list, you can then think about subtracting the negative experiences and maximizing the positive experiences. 

One way to do it is by outsourcing them.

This is a common practice in the start-up world where usually the VCs or Angel Investors advice young founders to outsource tasks. This allows them to focus on work and strategy that really matters the most.

The way they make these decisions is by asking a simple question

Is my time is worth more than what it costs me to outsource the task?

Have a look at the negative experiences in your list and ask yourself this question for each line item. 

For example, I asked myself 

“What does it cost me to outsource commuting?”

I checked the Uber ride cost from my home to my work-place and it turns out that I could afford to spend that money every day. 

So, I subtracted at least 45 negative minutes out of my day. 

Simple tasks like cooking, commuting, laundry, household chores can be easily outsourced without making a huge dent in our pockets. 

Maximize your positive experiences

It’s not enough to buy ourselves more time. The important thing is to ensure that this time is spent in happier and productive pursuits. 

If we don’t know how we want to spend our newly earned free time, we might just substitute one mundane, time-killing, zero value-adding task with another one. 

Have a look again at that list we made initially.

Is there something in the positive column that you want to do more of?

For me, reading books is one of the happiest experiences of my daily schedule. 

So, after I started commuting via cab, I used that earned free time and invested it in reading more. 

So that’s 45 minutes more of doing what I love, 45 minutes of more happier experience each day. 

It’s okay if you can’t immediately come up with something that you might want to do.

You can try this exercise. 

Ask yourself, 

“If I have one hour to do absolutely anything I want, no strings attached, what would I like to do?”

Professor Ashley Whillans has discovered in her research that

“Just the simple act of thinking about giving up money to have more free time seems to make people plan their time a little bit better.”

Every moment has an opportunity cost associated with it. That means, we are effectively saying to ourselves,

“If I’m going to incur this cost to have this free time, then I’m going make sure I really enjoy the free time that I have.”

That’s pretty much it. 

With a little effort and some planning, we can ensure that we can create more time for ourselves and that it is spent in the pursuit of happier experiences. 

What’s the point of earning all this money if you can’t use it to do what you love?

Remember, happiest people use their hard earned money to buy themselves more time. 

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