Research Agrees: You Should Use Money to Buy Time

Loved this piece from a couple of weeks ago, describing a study in which researchers found that people who pay others to do work they don’t want to do are happier for it:

“New research is challenging the age-old adage that money can’t buy happiness.

“The study, led by researchers at the University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School, suggests that using money to buy free time — such as paying to delegate household chores like cleaning and cooking — is linked to greater life satisfaction.

“People who hire a housecleaner or pay the kid next door to mow the lawn might feel like they’re being lazy,” said study lead author Ashley Whillans, assistant professor at Harvard Business School who carried out the research as a PhD candidate in the UBC department of psychology. “But our results suggest that buying time has similar benefits for happiness as having more money.”

I’ve been preaching this for years, often getting pushback about the whole “laziness” thing, or from people who believe that delegation is innately exploitative. Of course, if this is someone’s deeply held conviction, I wouldn’t argue with it. But just in case it’s not so deeply held for you, let me just point out that:

1) People need jobs, and your “bad job” is probably someone else’s “great job,” especially if you pay and treat them well. (Of course, I know all of my dear readers would do that!)

2) It’s hard to succeed at any kind of ambitious goal if you’re spending a lot of time doing chores and busy work. Once, a skeptical young person of my acquaintance went to an event where a panel of six successful woman entrepreneurs spoke on how they had succeeded. All made a point of saying they did as little housework or other tedium as possible, and that that was crucial to their success. And so my friend came back and told me, “NOW I understand why you keep saying not to do housework!”

3) “Quick” chores almost always take longer than we anticipate, and interruptions are more expensive, time-wise, than we realize. And time isn’t even your most valuable resource: mental space and energy is. Even a trivial task that is on the back of your mind is sapping mental energy and attention better used elsewhere.

I also get that some people don’t have much money. But many people spend too much money on material possessions that don’t make them very happy (or, at least, not for very long), and not enough on services or experiences that yield a richer and longer lasting happiness.

Also, some of the services don’t cost much. Some supermarkets deliver for free or cheap. (Just be sure to add a generous tip!) When I was semi-broke and living in a 5th floor walkup in Boston’s Beacon Hill, I gladly, ecstatically paid once a month for delivery so someone else would carry heavy containers of laundry detergent, multiple jars of spaghetti sauce, etc., up all those stairs. And take- out meals may not actually be that much more expensive or unhealthy than cooking for yourself.

Dropping your laundry off for someone else to do might only cost ten or twenty dollars more each month than doing it yourself, and you get to reclaim all those hours. (But if you need more help, like a weekly cleaning person, and have the means to hire one, by all means do it.)

Please note that I’m NOT saying you shouldn’t cook or garden if you sincerely love those activities. If you do, then go for it! Just make sure you’re not using that activity as a vehicle for procrastination. (Procrastination as a mimic of productive work, and yeah: considerations or procrastination aside, it’s possible to do too much housework.) Also, the goal isn’t simply to save time and energy, it’s about devoting as much of your precious life as possible to the things that bring you joy and fulfillment. As writer Gail Godwin put it in one of her short stories, we all have only, “a short-term lease among the stars.”

Are you pro or con hiring someone to help out? Please join the discussion below.

PS – In case you missed it, here’s Fast Company’s recent piece based on my idea that you should strive to live your summer life all year long.
(Based in part on information in this blog post.)

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