In Pursuit of Happiness


Yesterday’s Newport Daily News had on its front page an AP article about research into how best to translate new money into happiness.  The sugar fix, so to speak, of a shopping spree doesn’t do it; rather, the key is to invest it in one’s own time:

“Money can buy happiness if you spend it right,” said University of British Columbia psychology professor Elizabeth Dunn, co-author of a study in Monday’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The right way is paying someone else to do the time-consuming drudge work that you don’t like, said study lead author Ashley Whillans at the Harvard Business School.  When people do that, they report feeling greater life satisfaction in general and happier that day.  But when they buy material objects, it tends not to bring people the happiness they expect, she said.

To some extent, this is just a description of how human economics work.  A person labors toward his or her own greater happiness and satisfaction, and that in large part entails leaving behind work that he or she is happy to hand off to somebody for whom the money is currently of greater need than the time or who enjoys the work or who has found a more-efficient way to accomplish it.

Such findings seem to me to suggest a benefit of the “gig economy,” in which people use technology to piece together methods of freelance.  Consider:

… if anything, the data suggested that people with less money were able to get a bigger happiness boost from time-saving purchases than those with more…

Yet, only 28 percent of the people surveyed spent money to save time, an average of $148 per month.

The small percentage may be a function of our consumer society, which constantly places objects for purchase before us, and we’re not adequately trained to figure out our own personal balance of time, money, and enjoyment.  More to the point, though, it’s just easier to buy something than to hire somebody.

That’s where the gig economy could fill a gap, if it became easy and familiar simply to hire others for one-off tasks quickly and easily, more people would do it… and be happier.