Wallet Hacks

How money can buy happiness

Money doesn't buy happiness.

It's one of the often repeated phrases in personal finance (second only to “spend less than you earn!”).

There are studies that show you aren't happier when you make more money after a certain point. A Gallup survey of 450,000 Americans in 2008 and 2009 showed that “day to day contentment” rises with higher incomes but plateaus at $75,000. Make more money and it has no impact on your day to day contentment (but your overall life assessment happiness does improve).

As it turns out, there's a new study and there is a way you can buy day to day contentment.

Buying time promotes happiness” is the title of a paper authored by Ashley V. Whillans (Harvard Business), Elizabeth W. Dunn (University of British Columbia), Paul Smeets (Maastricht University), Rene Bekkers (Vrije Universiteit Ambsterdam), and Michael I. Norton (Harvard).

Despite rising incomes, people around the world are feeling increasingly pressed for time, undermining well-being.

We show that the time famine of modern life can be reduced by using money to buy time.

Surveys of large, diverse samples from four countries reveal that spending money on time-saving services is linked to greater life satisfaction.

To establish causality, we show that working adults report greater happiness after spending money on a time-saving purchase than on a material purchase.

This research reveals a previously unexamined route from wealth to well-being: spending money to buy free time.

The math is simple.

We know that money doesn't buy happiness but money buys time. So to buy happiness with money, you just have to spend it on time.

How might we do this?

Good Time vs. Bad Time

We all have 24 hours in the day but not every hour is created equally.

The hours you spend commuting to rush hour traffic to work isn't as good as the time you spend lying in your bed sleeping. You can improve your commute by listening to music and podcasts, turning bad useless transportation time into marginally entertaining or educational transportation time. It's not as good as sleeping, or hanging out with friends and family, but it's better than driving in rush hour traffic in silence.

If you were to plot the hours in your day on a “good time vs. bad time” scoring chart – it might look like this:

Score your entire day (do the week if you're ambitious)

The numbers aren't super important as long as they're relatively accurate. I put chores as 25 but maybe you like chores, so it's a 40. Maybe you're a weirdo and prefer chores over sleep – flip the numbers.

The goal is to identify how you spend your time, give them relative scores, and then find ways to turn low value time into higher value time.

How to Buy Happiness (Time)

The goal is to increase the total happiness in your day, which can be achieved by:

For removing bad time, it often comes down to buying something or hiring someone to replace a job you once did manually.

The best example of this is a cleaning service. There isn't a single person in the world that has hired a cleaning service and then said it was a bad decision. Everyone has loved it because it takes bad time (scrubbing toilets, mopping, etc.) and completely frees it up. If you have the means, hire a cleaning service and turn those hours into something better.

If you hate sweeping, buy a Roomba. The little robot will sweep for you.

For improving good time, you want to think of ways to improve the quality of life. Sleeping should be 100 for everyone. You spend so many hours sleeping that if you aren't scoring your sleep as a 100, you should take steps to fix it. Perhaps that's a better mattress, better sheets, better pillow — whatever.

If you spend 7 hours in bed a night, that's 2555 hours a year. If you keep the mattress five years (arguably low), that's 12,775 hours. How much are you willing to pay per hour for a score of 100?

We all have just 24 hours a day. Score your time, improve it piece by piece, and increase your day to day contentment. 🙂

What will be your first move to buying happiness?