Time or Money: Which Has Greater Value for My Happiness?

Money can’t buy happiness, right? In this post we explore how our values around time and money intersect and how maybe, if it’s spent the right way, money can buy us a little more happiness.


Last week as I was scrolling through my newsfeed I came across an intriguing NPR headline. “Need A Happiness Boost? Spend Your Money To Buy Time, Not More Stuff.” I clicked through to hear about an experiment a group of researchers performed to assess whether outsourcing tasks that people dislike improved their quality of life.

The researchers believed that paying someone to do things like mow the lawn, clean the house, or wash the car would increase their satisfaction of life because they get some of their time back. Using a 10 point rating system, they found the people who payed a small amount of cash to outsource this type of small mundane task increased their life satisfaction by one point. It might not seem like much, but “moving people up on the ladder of life satisfaction is not an easy thing to do,” says Elizabeth Dunn, author of the study.

Pondering the value of “stuff”

Here at Tiller we often encourage our customers and blog readers to ponder the value of “things” as well as time spent and how that impacts their quality of life. Tiller founder, Peter, often shares his experiences as a parent and husband in an overly busy world and how his family manages their time and works on letting go of “stuff.” He questions, “Is more really better? Do we really need more than one? How do we let go of the old to make room for the new, or simply to make space?” He understands there’s greater value in a less is more approach, and that “things” don’t always buy happiness.

After a few moves and some international travel, I trimmed my own possessions down to what fits in the trunk of my car (save a few plastic storage bins of “sentimental” possessions and winter clothes stowed away in my aunt’s attic). I understand the value of a minimalist life. It’s quite freeing. In a world of overconsumption and natural resource strain, I value reducing my own footprint.

Cultivating a happy life

Most if not all of us consider our happiness and what we can do to help it flourish. Perhaps it’s outsourcing the yard work to get back a couple hours to go on a hike with the kids. Maybe it’s hiring a professional organizer to help you declutter and donate those seven extra sports water bottles and outgrown kids’ clothes to Goodwill. Maybe it’s finally getting a handle on your finances. On the flip side, perhaps what some consider mundane, like trimming the bushes, actually adds enjoyment to your weekend.

It begs the question, what has greater value: time or money? These two constructs are correlated. We can use money to buy time, but then what do we do with it? We use time to make money, but then what do we do with it? In my experience, happiness is rooted in the intent of how either is spent. If I’m spending my time positively impacting the lives of others, I’m happier and that has greater value. If I spend my money on tools, experiences, or things that truly improve my life experience, I’m happier. I think the key is being mindful. Does this time or money spent truly add positive value to my life or the life of others? Perhaps in that question lies a formula for building a happy life.

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