A study in 2005 of positive psychology showed that our “happiness” is derived 50% from our genetics, 40% from the things we choose to do, and 10% from our circumstances. While all of us would like a salary raise, research shows an upshift in income only temporarily raises our happiness. Within a few months to a year, we are back to our baseline happiness.
So how do we increase our happiness? A lot of research is going on to better understand what happiness is and how we can increase it. One of the things we know for sure is that experiences make us happy. And to have experiences, we need free time.
Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent several years caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. She recorded their dying epiphanies in a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. Reasons #2 and #4 are regrets of not having spent more time with family and more time with friends. In other words, experiences.
Since time is the most precious commodity, consider buying some time by outsourcing the things you don’t like to do or don’t want to spend the time doing. Buying more free time could allow you spend more time with your family and friends, or simply make your time at home less stressful by not having to worry about other things. It may be the best investment in happiness you could make.
The new research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, found that people who spent money on time-saving investments—like hiring a gardener instead of tending to the yard themselves, or paying extra for grocery delivery instead of spending time at the store—reported greater life satisfaction. That wasn’t only true for wealthy people, either: “People from across the income spectrum benefited from buying time,” the authors wrote in their paper.
To better understand how money, time, and happiness relate to each other, researchers at the University of British Columbia surveyed more than 6,000 adults in the United States, Denmark, Canada, and the Netherlands. The participants answered questions about how often they spend money to buy themselves free time, how often they felt stressed about time, their demographics, and their overall life satisfaction.
Even after the researchers controlled for income level, the results were clear: People who spent money on time-saving purchases reported higher levels of satisfaction with their lives. “We thought the effects might only hold up for people with quite a bit of disposable income, but to our surprise, we found the same effects across the income spectrum,” said senior author and psychology professor Elizabeth Dunn, PhD, in a press release.
In fact, among the study’s U.S. participants, researchers noticed an even stronger relationship between buying time and enjoying life among those who were less affluent, the authors wrote in their paper. (They did note, however, that their sample included relatively few people at the “lowest rungs” of the income spectrum.)