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Buying Time

July 28, 2017

Can purchasing time-saving services make us happier?





The joys of buying time. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The best gift we can buy ourselves may be time. This according to University of British Columbia psychologist Elizabeth Dunn and her colleagues, writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They gave volunteers $40 each and instructed them to buy themselves something nice, like clothes or fine wine. The following week, they gave them $40 and asked them to spend it on a service that would save them time, like lawn mowing or house cleaning.

ELIZABETH DUNN (University of British Columbia):

In both cases, this seems pretty good, right? You’re getting money and being told to spend it on something for yourself. But what we see is that people feel happier at the end of the day when they’ve gotten to spend this money on a time saving purchase as opposed to when they’ve spent the money on a material thing.


She says despite this, people resist buying time-saving services; her current research aims to find out why. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Bob Hirshon