Money CAN Buy Happiness Sometimes — If You’re Buying Yourself Time

by Sara Farrell Baker
Originally Published: 
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We have been told all our lives that money can’t buy happiness. The best things in life are free and horrible things happen to a lot of lottery winners, so I mean, it’s not not true. But I’ve also seen some pretty happy rich people, so it’s not completely out of the realm of possibility to see a correlation between cash on hand and quality of life. And while there are plenty of stories about people buying stacks on stacks of stuff, hoping to feel satisfied but never quite filling whatever void exists for them, money doesn’t just buy stuff.

A recent study that should have been published in No Shit, Sherlock Weekly, but instead appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that money spent on time-saving tasks increased the happiness of those surveyed in comparison to money spent on material goods.

Basically, buying groceries doesn’t really make anyone happy. But paying someone to do the grocery shopping for you? Happiness boosted!

I cannot be the only person who has wondered and continues to wonder if my life would be easier with just one or two additional hours in the day. A few months back, I decided to hire a housekeeper every two weeks. The day-to-day cleaning is not a huge deal for me, normally. I have a relatively small house and can usually keep up. But the big stuff piles up. The mopping and the baseboards and any kind of deep-cleaning always get put off until my house is a hamster cage and then I need a whole weekend devoted solely to catching up.

That weekend also has to be devoid of husband and kids so I’m not having the house trashed behind me every step I take forward. And those weekends come around about once every this side of never.

So I hired a housekeeper named Eileen to come in every two weeks and handle the stuff I haven’t had time for. She dusts, she scrubs, and she sprinkles magic happy sparkles all over the place. In the months since hiring her, I have not experienced the overwhelming stress I would get every few weeks when basic cleaning needed to be taken up a few notches and I had to scramble to find the time to do it.

And the times when I’ve been caring for sick children or am sick myself, like a recent week when I was battling constant headaches and migraines, aren’t made worse by the anxiety I used to feel about all of the housework piling up around me. Every two weeks, Eileen comes in and hits a reset button on my house. The comfort of knowing that it can never get more than two weeks of bad around here has been a huge weight off of my mind, which makes me more patient and happy, which hugely benefits my family (and the general public).

But here’s the best part: I do not like cleaning. I do not wake up in the morning and greet the day excited to break out the Lemon Pledge and attack specks of dust on a bookshelf. There are a million things I would rather do, including, but not limited to, working out, taking a shower, eating my breakfast sitting down instead of shoving a granola bar in my face on the way out the door, playing with my kids, going for a walk, or actually reading a book that is sitting on that dusty bookshelf for once. And because I have outsourced that and other tasks that I do not enjoy and do not feel are worth the time I would invest in them, I get to do things I actually enjoy. And thus, more happiness all around.

What is absurd is that so many people who can afford to spend money on saving time don’t. There are plenty of reasons, a prominent one being the idea that it’s frivolous to pay someone to do something you can do yourself. But when I think about my wish for a few more hours in the day, I think that many of us would gladly pay money for time. And that’s exactly what outsourcing buys you. We are fine with things like Roombas and dishwashers and microwaves saving us time. We don’t look at purchasing those appliances as some kind of moral failing.

But throw a person into the equation? Suddenly, we feel lazy and entitled. Or suddenly everyone else feels the need to chime in on our choices, labeling us as lazy or entitled.

Whether you are paying someone to clean your house, do your laundry, wash and blowout your hair, or mow your lawn, you are buying yourself time. Time that you would have spent doing something you do not enjoy that can now be spent doing something you do enjoy. I’m having a hard time envisioning anyone on their deathbed telling their loved one to lean in closer so they can whisper “I wish I had spent more time detailing the minivan.”

Even something as simple as saying “Screw it! We’re ordering pizza” on a day when you’re too exhausted to turn on the stove can have a positive impact on your overall happiness. I mean, in part because pizza, but also because you just bought yourself time and a 20-minute guaranteed delivery. Plus, no kitchen cleanup.

Your time has value. An actual, quantifiable value that you can calculate in dollars and cents. The best things in life may be free, but if you are constantly busy doing crap that you hate and don’t have the time to enjoy them, then who cares? It doesn’t matter if they’re free or cost a million dollars — they’re unattainable.

So I choose to free up my time when and where I can, and it gives me more time to spend with the people I love most. Winning.

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