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Buying time promotes happiness

  1. Michael I. Nortona
  1. aHarvard Business School, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02163;
  2. bDepartment of Psychology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada V6T 1Z4;
  3. cDepartment of Finance, Maastricht University, 6200 MD Maastricht, The Netherlands;
  4. dCenter for Philanthropic Studies, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  1. Edited by Susan T. Fiske, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, and approved June 13, 2017 (received for review April 19, 2017)

Significance

Despite rising incomes, people around the world are feeling increasingly pressed for time, undermining well-being. We show that the time famine of modern life can be reduced by using money to buy time. Surveys of large, diverse samples from four countries reveal that spending money on time-saving services is linked to greater life satisfaction. To establish causality, we show that working adults report greater happiness after spending money on a time-saving purchase than on a material purchase. This research reveals a previously unexamined route from wealth to well-being: spending money to buy free time.

Abstract

Around the world, increases in wealth have produced an unintended consequence: a rising sense of time scarcity. We provide evidence that using money to buy time can provide a buffer against this time famine, thereby promoting happiness. Using large, diverse samples from the United States, Canada, Denmark, and The Netherlands (n = 6,271), we show that individuals who spend money on time-saving services report greater life satisfaction. A field experiment provides causal evidence that working adults report greater happiness after spending money on a time-saving purchase than on a material purchase. Together, these results suggest that using money to buy time can protect people from the detrimental effects of time pressure on life satisfaction.

Footnotes

  • ?1To whom correspondence should be addressed. Email: awhillans{at}hbs.edu.
  • Author contributions: A.V.W., E.W.D., and M.I.N. designed research; P.S. contributed to the design of studies 5 and 6; P.S. and R.B. collected data for studies 5 and 6; A.V.W. analyzed the data; and A.V.W., E.W.D., and M.I.N. wrote the paper.

  • The authors declare no conflict of interest.

  • This article is a PNAS Direct Submission.

  • This article contains supporting information online at www.danielhellerman.com/lookup/suppl/doi:10.1073/pnas.1706541114/-/DCSupplemental.

Freely available online through the PNAS open access option.

Online Impact

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