#236 Can Buying Time Increase Happiness and Longevity?

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Can Buying Time Increase Happiness and Longevity?

In our fast paced modern life, most of us are in living in a time famine.  As a perceived lack of time leads to stress, anxiety, and insomnia, can buying time increase happiness and longevity?  In this article, I review a new study evaluating whether buying stuff or time increases happiness.

My Life

As a child, I always looked forward to Christmas.  I loved seeing the present piled high under the Christmas tree.  My siblings and I would count the hours until Christmas morning.  It seemed as if Christmas would never come.

Once the long awaited day arrived, we would take turns opening our presents.  Opening each new gift gave us each a shot of dopamine to our brains that made Christmas morning almost euphoric.

Despite the incredible highs of Christmas morning, I always felt a correspondingly low crash by Christmas afternoon.  After we ripped through all of the presents, I felt a longing for something more.  It was almost if I felt empty inside after playing with all these new toys.

By the time I made it to adulthood, time was scarce, and my living space became full of stuff.  Stuff that I had purchased for a good reason at the time but yet later often never seemed to need.

For years now, whenever a family member has asked me what I want for my birthday or Christmas I have answered time.  Indeed, anything a family member can do to help me free up time is a gift that I will always cherish.  Time, not stuff, is what makes me happy now.

I always thought that my quest for more time, not stuff made be a bit odd.  Now, after this new Harvard University study, perhaps I was on to something…

The New Harvard Study: Buying Time versus Stuff

In this recently published buying time versus stuff Harvard study, researchers included 6,271 people from the US, Canada, and Europe.  From these 6,271 people, researchers analyzed their buying habits and self-reported life satisfaction.

As you might imagine, this large sample size included the wealthy, poor, and middle class from a number of different countries.  To confirm their findings of these 6,271 people, Harvard researchers added a second component to this study.  They gave a portion of these people $40 on two separate weekends.  With a study design like this, I still wish I could have participated in this study and pocketed $40 on two different weekends!

On one weekend, study participants were told to spend the $40 on things that could save them time like a house cleaner, handyman, or even a neighborhood kid to run some errands for them.  On the other weekend, they were told to go out and buy something with the $40.  After spending the $40, study participants were called and asked about how happy they felt and their stress levels.

The 6 Findings of the Harvard Study

Rather than keep you in suspense any longer, here are the six key findings of this study.

1. Buying time, rather than stuff, increased happiness by 16%.

2. Spending money to create more free time, instead of accumulating more material possessions, decreased perceived stress by 17%.

3. Regardless of whether you are a millionaire or just struggling to survive, buying time resulted in more happiness and less stress.

4. Contrary to conventional wisdom, cash strapped Americans benefited more from “buying time” than millionaires or people from any of the other countries.  Perhaps this says something about how jam packed our lives are in the US.

5. Only 2% of people in the US, Canada, or Europe reported that they would ever spend money to free up more personal time.

6. Outsourcing some of your “to do list” seemed to be much more beneficial for women in reducing their stress and increasing their happiness.

Why Does Buying Time Increase Happiness?

You would think that all of our modern conveniences like the Internet, smartphones, and cars would save us time and make us happier.  Rather, the more technology progresses, the more time stress we feel.  Perhaps this is because of the more technology advances, the harder we have to work to get all of this new stuff.

In this study, spending money to free up more personal time was shown to help combat the challenges of modern life.  Thus, money may assist you with time stress.

A second theory as to why buying time increased happiness in this study is because with all of our work, family, and community commitments many of us feel as if we have no control over our lives.  Perhaps the reason why spending money to free up personal time was so useful is because it may bring back a sense of control over our lives.

Does Happiness Make You Live Longer?

The answer to whether happiness makes you live longer may come from an ongoing study that has been running for 78 years now and counting.  In this study, researchers are closely following the lives of 268 Harvard University students who were at Harvard between 1939 and 1944.

Even our former US president, John F. Kennedy, was one of the 268 college students in this study. Now that the last of these students are now in their 90s, researchers can see what the key factors to longevity are.

Based on the Harvard Grant Study, the number one predictor of health and longevity was happiness.  When they dug deeper, researchers found that the key to happiness in this life was relationships.  Perhaps, if we weren’t such time stressed in our modern lives we would have more time for the relationships which matter most.

Practical Tips

While this latest Harvard study showed that when it comes to happiness, buying time is much better than buying more stuff, I would argue that there is an even better solution.  Rather than spending our hard earned money on outsourcing our lives in search of happiness, what if we just bought less stuff so that we didn’t have to work so hard?

A second practical tip is to remember that every time you say “yes” to something, you are in essence saying “no” to something else.  Even little social obligations add up.  Saying yes to helping with a community or work event means that you may have to give up your daily workout or time with your children.

The key then is to only focus on what is essential for your life.  Only buy those things that you need in your life.  Also, only say yes to social obligations that are essential for you and your family.

What are your thoughts on this buying time versus stuff study?  I would love to hear from you.  Please leave your thoughts and questions below, and I’ll do my best to answer every question.  Of course, if you haven’t yet read our new Amazon bestselling book, The Longevity Plan, or subscribed to our free weekly newsletter and podcast, how about doing so now?

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3 Comments
  1. I never understand why parents say both of them can’t afford not to work full time. If they just bought less things both of them could spend more time with their children.

  2. Whether happiness increases longevity or not, for me is irrelevant. It’s the quality of time spent on this earth that matters. In other words, being happy while you are alive is what matters most. If it also increases longevity as a side effect, all the better.