Happier people make a key decision about how they spend their time

MillennialsBrad Barket/Getty Images for 90sFESTWhat’s worth more to you: time or money?

Sure, time is money.

But when you have to make a choice that prioritises one or the other, which do you favour?

Spending money to save time can provide a modest but significant happiness boost, according to a recent study.

Researchers surveyed more than 6,000 people in the US, Canada, Denmark, and The Netherlands and conducted a small experiment to verify their findings.

For the survey, researchers asked about life satisfaction and about the things people purchased to increase their free time, things that eliminated time-consuming chores like cleaning, shopping, and cooking.

After controlling for factors like income, marital status, and children, they found that people who spent money on time-saving measures seemed to get a life-satisfaction boost of around 8%.

To see if spending money on time-saving measures made people happier, researchers gave 60 adults in Vancouver, Canada, $US40 on two consecutive weekends. On one weekend, the volunteers were supposed to buy something with the money, on the other they were supposed to make a time-saving purchase.

Again, that time-saving purchase associated with a moderate-sized but significant happiness boost.

The researchers think this works because time stress — that feeling that you never have enough time — has a serious negative impact on life satisfaction.

Most people don’t spend a lot of money doing things to save themselves time. The survey only found that 28.2% of respondents reported “buying time” at an average of just under $US148 a month. But maybe more people should do so.

The persistence of memory dali, clocks

Wikimedia Commons
Was Dali’s point that time is the most essential resource when we’re creating memories that define our lives?

A recurring theme

The benefits of valuing time over money are actually a recurring theme in social psychology. A number of previous studies show that the value of having more time has a bigger positive impact on happiness than having more money.

One study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science asked people which they prioritised.

For that study, the researchers conducted five separate investigations involving 4,415 people with different incomes, employment statuses, and other demographic differences.

They asked if people would prefer to get a little more time or money right now in their lives. They also asked participants if they would take a pay cut at a new job if it meant they had more free time.

People who thought time was more important were happier and had greater life satisfaction.

Some interesting findings:

  • It didn’t matter whether people wanted more time in the day or time in their life: Both were associated with greater happiness.
  • People who wanted more money so they could spend it on experiences were happier than people who wanted more money so they could spend it on material possessions.
  • When participants were assigned to write about wanting more time or more money, those who wrote about more time were slightly happier. This indicates that trying to value time over money might help increase happiness, though much more research would be needed here.
  • In one study that manipulated people to feel happy or unhappy, those manipulated to feel happy were much more likely to say time was more important.
  • Wealthier people tended to express a greater preference for time over money in general, which may mean that it’s harder to control for income than we think — or that people always want what they don’t have.
Working lateHero Images/Getty ImagesWorking late might be good for your career (and wallet), but will it make you happier?

Which to choose

It’s also important to note that for some people, prioritising money over time is a necessity, not a choice. Some people may need to choose a higher-paying job with longer hours because they otherwise could not afford the essentials, for example, even if they might prefer to prioritise time if they were able to.

Research does show that money is associated with greater happiness up to an income of about $US75,000, but even after controlling for income, it turns out that people who value time more than money report being happier.

In fact, in the most recent study, researchers said that the people with less income seemed to receive even more of a happiness boost if they spent money to save time.

So the next time you’re making a tough choice between having more time or more money, think of your happiness, if you can, not just your wallet. Take a cab, order take out, and splurge on that cleaning service.

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