Can You Buy Happiness?

 September 28, 2017

The Life & Culture section of my local newspaper this past Sunday featured an article about a study that showed that people who paid others to complete household tasks were more satisfied with their life.  “Working adults in the United States reported higher life satisfaction if they regularly paid to outsource household tasks, such as cooking, shopping and general maintenance,” the article stated.

The article further stated that the amount of money wasn’t as important as how they spent it. The implication seems to be that if you are too cheap to consider hiring someone to do your housework or other chores, then you are too cheap to be happy. Now I have a problem with that.

There was a short period in my life, over thirty years ago, when I had a housekeeper come in every other week. For me, the worst part of housecleaning is picking up all the clutter. In order for the housekeeper to clean, I had to rush around and pick up the clutter before she got there. Then she went around with a feather duster and lightly dusted and swept the floor. For the amount we were paying for this, I figured I could happily do the same.

I also can’t see paying someone to do yard work. For the most part I like doing yard work. It’s outside and a good workout. Why pay someone for something I would rather do myself? Is it just that I’m too cheap and thereby doomed to unhappiness? I don’t think so!

In the same section of the paper there was an article on the Plaza Hotel in New York that mentioned how a common request was for the butler to draw baths, often staying within arm’s length of the bather to add hot water or scented oil and finally to pull the plug when they are done. My first thought after reading this, was how could anyone be so lazy they can’t draw their own bath? My second thought was, some people just have too much money.

In the study, when given $40 on the condition that they spend it on something that would make them really happy, only 2 percent of participants mentioned buying themselves more time. Maybe that was because $40 doesn’t go very far when it comes to buying time. My housekeeper from thirty years ago charged more than that. Maybe there are still neighborhood teens willing to mow a lawn for $40, but not that many. While I would enjoy having someone cook tasty, nutritious meals for me in my own home, I don’t think $40 would go too far towards that. (After some further thought on this, I did consider that having a virtual assistant to do all the marketing stuff I hate would be a good way to use this money, however, I would have to know enough to be able to tell them what I wanted them to do, which I don’t.)

The bottom line of the article was that happy people spend their money on what gives them more time and makes them happier. For me, that has always meant going without small extravagances in order to have time for what was most important to me, such as having meaningful employment even if it didn’t pay well, and now, having time for writing.

While not mentioned in the article, other research has shown that once you have enough money to meet certain basic needs, or once you are out of poverty, money isn’t a big factor in happiness. Having loving relationships, meaningful work and personality factors that predispose someone to being happy are far more important than money. Meaning, as Abraham Lincoln is reputed to have said, most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.

What do you think? Do you use the money you have in a way that makes you happy? If you were given $40 on the condition that you used it for something that would make you really happy, how would you use it? I would love to hear from you!



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