The Surprising Way Money Can Buy Happiness (Hint: It’s Not “Treat Yo’ Self”)
Can money buy happiness? ‘Tis the age-old question, with no shortage of anecdotes cited as proof that money does or does not buy contentment. Think about it. Have you ever heard someone say “Whoever said money can’t buy happiness has never eaten at [expensive restaurant]!!” or something equally as douchey? I’m envisioning a snobby, Upper East Side type; a woman with an aggressive hat and who talks to waiters like they don’t know English. Dudes, you ain’t in the clear here. I once heard an SF tech bro make a similar statement, but worse, because “strippers” and “meat marinara” were somehow involved.
(It is widely agreed that money can indeed, buy happiness, in the form of basic living needs. Think shelter, warmth, food, and transportation. The debated question is whether money can buy happiness after those basic needs are met.)
A study published last summer says “Yes!” But don’t go thinking that you’ll be slurping up everlasting endorphins from your new planter from Crate and Barrel; subjects experienced heightened and sustained levels of happiness only when they spent money on help with a time-consuming chore, like laundry or cleaning. The authors of the study classified these purchases as ones where people “bought their time back.” There was no such happiness correlation when the same person shopped.
Despite rising incomes, people are still unhappy; researchers suspected what they call “time famine.” No surprise there! If you wake up early, commute for an hour on a crowded train, spend 13 hours at work, eat cold noodles at your desk for lunch, and commute back home, guess what you don’t want to do? Match some dumb socks. Pull the hair out of your sink drain. Do anything, really. And for those of you with kids? *faints simply thinking about the amount of tidying and errands caring for a baby entails*
Time is a finite resource. We intuitively know this, but it’s hard to remember in our daily practice. And while I wish there was some way I could give you more time, I am not God—I am just a woman with an extensive collection of costume God beards. But our brains seem to recognize this, and actually get happier when we keep more of it for ourselves. We should listen!!
What Purchase Have You Made That Makes Your Life Better?
I asked this question of my internet friends, and here’s what they said. By the way, I did NOT use any caveats. Yet, every single person named something that saves them time or effort. Not one person said “turquoise snakeskin high-heeled booties.”
-Cleaning service (easily the most popular answer)
-Grocery delivery service
-Roomba (this one came up multiple times!)
-Riding Lawn Mower
-Gym membership with additional amenities (sauna, childcare)
The last two are arguably not time savers; I’d argue they’re something even better! They may be the one purchase that actually GROWS your time, by keeping you healthier for longer. This one is all about usage and accountability: If you don’t use your gym membership, fucking cancel it. If a pricey Barre membership is the only way you’ll work out, it’s totally worth it.
(The other common answer I received not in the time-saving category was “my dog.” Zero disagreements here, da goodest boys = profound happiness.)
In the study, participants were given $80 total to spend. In the first weekend, they were to spend $40 on something that would save them time. In the second, on a material purchase. Day-of mood improved during the time-saving weekend, but not during the material purchase weekend, even when the purchase was considered to improve social status.
If you’ll be happier on a day or weekend because of a time-saving purchase, it’s worth considering integrating more of these into your monthly budget! If you string together a series of purchases that free up your precious time, you’re able to keep your mood more than just temporarily elevated, actively fighting “time stress.” This may prove especially true for working women, who come home from work to their “second shift” of actively keeping everyone’s fucking shit in order.
Bring this science to future family budget negotiations, especially if you’re a woman and doing way more than your fair share of the domestic (and likely, emotional) labor. Your happiness is worth hiring help.
Time to Re-Evaluate Priorities
That said, very few people can afford to just tack on a bunch of extra services to their monthly expenses. It will undoubtedly take some shifting around of resources, and a re-examination of spending. Maybe it means going out to eat less, or spending less on clothes. It could mean doing the occasional no-spend week so that you can save up for a house cleaner on Sunday.
“But But But have you EVER even heard of Treat Yo’ Self*??!” Hey, I’m not saying that need to give up shopping. I love a good treasure hunt as much as the next person! But there’s no scientific evidence to show us that shopping actually makes us happy. To me, this makes perfect sense. The “buzz” you get from buying something wears off pretty quick. Just think of all the dozens of times you’ve bought something trendy, only to look at it two weeks later and think “what the hell was I smoking?” A daring cropped millennial pink sweater from H&M becomes a pile of slutty textile waste within the span of a micro-season. (If you don’t know about this country’s problem with disposable fashion, get with the program.)
*For those of you living under a rock, Treat Yo’ Self is synonymous with “splurges.” Candles, chocolate, a new leather handbag.
We’ve always known that buying a bunch of Stuff is bad for Mama Earth and, for most people, bad for our budgets and long-term financial goals. But now we also know that Stuff (beyond basic living needs) doesn’t actually have the capacity to make us happier. Plenty of other studies reveal something similar; Dr. Tim Kasser has found in his research that materialistic pursuits can actually make us unhappy, depressed, anxious, and not least of all, lose sex drive.
Food for thought for 2018.
Before I leave you, a quick thought on hiring help:
You should not feel guilty about utilizing your resources in a way that makes you happiest. But it is imperative you recognize that not everyone is in the position to do the same. So while you may feel like Queen on her freshly-polished throne after a good house scrub, the woman you just paid to clean it will never have that option. If you want to utilize this happiness-maximizer, you better be ready to pay someone a livable wage with a smile on your face. And don’t forget that tip.
Once, an acquaintance complained to me about the price of her fluff n’ fold laundry service; “Hell, I should quit my job and do laundry if that’s how much she’s charging!!” she snickered. I think my eyeballs buggered so hard they fell out of my head. Aside from the fact that her launderer does hard fucking labor every single long-houred day in her life, she has to rent space in a building, maintain heavy (and probably old) equipment, and pay for bookkeeping and tax help. She delivers your perfectly folded knickers to you in a car for which there are car payments, insurance, and gas to consider. Pretending like poor people have desirable work situations is at best self-preservation and at worst contributing to a system of economic oppression. k thanks bye!!