An international team of researchers found that working people who use money to free up more of their time are more satisfied with their life than those who buy material goods instead.
Despite rising incomes, many people feel increasingly 'time poor'. This has been linked to lower levels of wellbeing, anxiety and insomnia. Lacking time to exercise and cook healthy meals may also contribute to obesity and other conditions.
A research team led by Harvard University in the US and the University of British Columbia in Canada set out to explore whether using money to buy one's way out of a 'time famine' can boost happiness.
Help round the house
They surveyed 6,271 individuals in the US, Denmark, Canada and the Netherlands. The participants were asked whether they spent money each month to buy themselves free time and if so, how much. This included paying for help with cooking, shopping and work around the house.
The respondents were also asked to rate their satisfaction with life, and give details of their age, income, marital status, number of working hours and the number of children they had.
The Canadian and Dutch participants were also scored for how time-stressed they were.
Those who spent money buying back time for themselves reported greater life satisfaction, the researchers say. This remained true for people with a large amount of disposable income as well as those with less excess cash to spend.
However, they point out that since the study included very few people on the lowest rungs of the income ladder, buying services to save time would not apply to people struggling to service their basic needs.
Something for the weekend
In a separate experiment, the researchers randomly assigned 60 adults in the Canadian city of Vancouver to spend $40 (£25) on a time-saving purchase one weekend and the same amount on a material purchase on another weekend. The results showed that people felt happier when they spent money on a time-saving purchase than on a material purchase, according to the study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The researchers note that despite the potential benefits of buying back time, many people are resistant to the idea. They say just under half of the 818 millionaires they surveyed spent no money, even on everyday tasks they disliked.
"Within many cultures, women may feel obligated to complete household tasks themselves, working a 'second-shift' at home, even when they can afford to pay someone to help," they write.
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