Could Buying Time Bring You Happiness?

A new study shows how to increase happiness by avoiding household chores!

Buying time Buying happiness

There was a fascinating article in The Guardian last weekend by a Buddhist monk, on the meditative benefits of cleaning. You can read it here.

But it basically said that the repetitive and never-ending nature of keeping your environment in order can still the mind and promote mindful well-being. But if you were too busy folding other people’s washing and scraping pasta off the floor to read the article, you might get more use out of another recent publication. It’s a research paper by a group of international academics that has found a direct link between outsourcing housework and happiness.

The background to their thesis is that we know that “buying into” fun experiences like watching movies and playing sport has a drastic effect on our daily happiness levels (ok, ok it’s obvious, but it’s cool when boffins actually break down the workings and real-life financial impact of these things). But what about “buying out of” tiresome experiences? Could that make us feel good too?

The answer is a big, fat YES. And it’s all about “time scarcity”, that unfortunate by-product of increased earning power. After all, we all know someone – maybe it’s you – who has worked hard to achieve great success in their career, but who doesn’t have time to enjoy their money or invest in their health because every waking hour is devoted to work. It’s even more of a problem for those who run their own businesses, because they feel they can never justify switching off.

But even Prime Ministers need time to chillax, and the advice from this recent study (Buying Time Promotes Happiness, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) is to pay someone else to do your chores.

As part of their study, the researchers gave volunteers $40 to spend either on a material item or a labour-saving service such as paying a cleaner or an assistant to run your weekend errands for a couple of hours. Afterwards, those who saved time rather than gained a new toy reported higher levels of happiness.

And the thinking behind this runs a bit deeper than the fact that you can spend the time you save on jobs doing fun stuff. It’s about feeling in control. If you spend all Saturday running around food shopping, hoovering, mowing the lawn and collecting dry cleaning – tasks you feel you “have” to do – then you won’t feel like you’re the boss of your day. And that impacts your mood.

And guess what? The people who stand to gain most from outsourcing domestic chores are women, whose daily satisfaction decreases as their earning power increases, because when they get home from their professional job, their second shift as an unpaid skivvy starts.

So next time you finish the weekend feeling exhausted and trapped by all the tasks you had to do to keep the show on the road, consider spending a bit of extra money on getting help. It doesn’t make you lazy or spoilt. It just means you’re taking care of your mental health.


Photo by Jade Masri on Unsplash.