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Researchers finally figured out whether it's time or money that makes people happier

Watch and walletShutterstockPeople who value time over money tend to be happier.

Last year, my colleague Jacqui Kenyon wrote about her decision to start using “wash-and-fold” laundry services — even though she initially thought it was a waste of cash.

At some point, she realised that the amount of time freed up was well worth the extra few dollars.

Kenyon’s experience is a prime example of how the tug-of-war between time and money plays out in everyday life. The question is: Are those who value time or money happier in the long run?

New research provides some preliminary evidence in favour of the time-valuers.

For the study, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, researchers looked at time and money preferences in a number of different populations, including students at a college in Canada, visitors to a Canadian museum, and a group of American adults. In total, more than 4,600 people participated.

In a series of experiments, they asked participants to choose between two options. For example: Would they take a cheaper flight with a layover or a more expensive direct flight? Would they enter a grad program that led to a higher-paying job with long hours or one that led to a lower-paying job with shorter hours?

Researchers also asked participants to answer a few questions indicating how happy they were.

Results showed that participants were pretty evenly split as to whether they tended to value time or money, but people who placed a higher priority on their time tended to be happier.

At this point, it’s unclear whether valuing time over money directly causes people to be happier — it could be that happier people tend to prioritise having more time. It’s also unclear why exactly valuing time over money is linked to greater happiness, though the researchers have some ideas.

For example, the time-valuers reported working fewer hours. So it’s possible that they spend more time on activities they enjoy, like socialising and exercising, because they work less.

Overall, these findings seem to provide another bit of evidence that money is important, but it probably can’t buy happiness.

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