LIVING

Money Can Absolutely Buy You Happiness, Says Science

It's all about where you spend it.

07/26/2017 16:24 EDT | Updated 07/26/2017 16:24 EDT

Having a lot of money is no guarantee of happiness, no matter how great luxury cars and closets full of shoes might look. Or, you know, having some money left over after you pay rent, that's nice too.

There is, however, a school of thought that believes ... well, we'll let Cristina Yang explain it best:

But if you're one of those people who likes to use the comparison of which is more valuable — time vs. money — as the basis for your decisions, science has an answer: it's time.

A study conducted by the University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School looked at more than 6,000 people from a range of economic backgrounds in Canada, Denmark, the U.S. and the Netherlands, and found that when they spent their money on time-saving activities, it made them happier than if they'd done so on material goods.

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The research was based on the idea that as people in developed countries have more disposable income, thanks to their work, they also have less time during which to enjoy that money, thanks to their work.

The results demonstrated that when people used that money to purchase a service they would otherwise have to carry out themselves, they reported more positive feelings, and that's been attributed to a reduction in that all-too-familiar feeling of the time crunch.

People felt less end-of-day time pressure when they purchased time-saving services, which explained their improved mood that day.

"People felt less end-of-day time pressure when they purchased time-saving services, which explained their improved mood that day," the study notes.

And it wasn't just for rich people (even though the study included a specific sample of Dutch millionaires).

"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," UBC psychology professor and the study's senior author Elizabeth Dunn said in a press release.

But there was one small catch. The study also found that there's a curvilinear relationship between buying time and life satisfaction that looks something like this:

PNAS

Basically, people like to spend a certain amount on tasks they don't want to do themselves (like say, cleaning their houses), but once it gets to be too much money, they don't feel quite as happy. The sweet spot? About US$100 to $200 per month.

The researchers hypothesize that this has to do with feeling in control — we like outsourcing some services so we can feel less stressed, but start feeling like maybe we don't have control over our lives when we're too dependent on others to carry out our responsibilities.

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Either way, the results feel pretty clear: pay for the help you can afford, and reap the benefits of your hard work.

"Although buying time can serve as a buffer against the time pressures of daily life, few people are doing it even when they can afford it," said Dunn. "Lots of research has shown that people benefit from buying their way into pleasant experiences, but our research suggests people should also consider buying their way out of unpleasant experiences."