Elizabeth Newman
Elizabeth Newman

Are you happy?

That’s often a provocative question, whether it’s asked at your facility, in a relationship or after a big event.

But a study last week confirmed what I often discuss with my friends, which is that money really can buy happiness when it’s used to increase time. Harvard University researchers found in a field experiment that there is a ”causal evidence that working adults report greater happiness after spending money on a time-saving purchase than on a material purchase.” They set up an experiment where people received $40 on two consecutive weekends, the first with instructions to save time, the second with a directive to spend the money on a material purchase.

The subjects were happier when they purchased time-saving services. To understand this better, let’s talk about laundry.

I am in a household of two people, and yet laundry is constant. We use rags over paper towels whenever possible, we have cats that shed on blankets and we both work out, resulting in smelly gym clothes. On a weekly basis I can keep up, but if we’re both out of town we begin drowning in loads of unwashed laundry. On those occasions, we occasionally opt to drop off roughly 25 pounds of clothes at a “wash and fold” laundry service, where it’s about $0.75 per pound. It buys me back several hours of time. I’m not the first person to experience this magic — Business Insider found the same thing.

We could have similar discussions around household cleaning, grocery shopping, car maintenance, yard work or any “adult” item in our life that we don’t enjoy. Sometimes results may surprise you: Do you take satisfaction from looking at your clean kitchen or freshly mowed lawn? Sure. But unlike creative endeavors, where the journey may be part of the process, I would argue many of our household chores don’t fulfill us due to the process, but rather the result.

Clearly, for those at very high incomes this may seem like preaching to the choir, and those at low incomes may find it impossible to find a spare cent. But for many of us in the middle, we have the money. The problem is we feel guilty about outsourcing domestic life, not to mention having a specific number assigned to a task. Shouldn’t we be cooking dinner for our families, doing the laundry and ironing, walking the dog and washing our own cars? Isn’t it possible that the time we save will just mean we spend more hours at work, or checking email while at home?

Possibly: As this Washington Post article points out, the prevalence of microwaves and washing machines hasn’t made us less busy. But here’s my argument for why, as a long-term care administrator and executive, you have to find a way to reclaim spare time: You are under increasing regulatory pressure, where many of you talk to me about less time being able to talk to residents or feeling like attending a conference for a day will put you behind for a week. The days in long-term care can be long, the hours unpredictable. If you walk in the door at 7 p.m. to a clean house, with a prepared meal and no laundry, it means you can focus on being with your family for the rest of the evening. Even if you live alone in a rented apartment, it means you can use your evening time to take the dog for a long walk, read a book or go to bed early.

It won’t magically fix all the problems in your professional life. But it likely will allow you to be happier, and that attitude will influence everyone, personally and professionally, around you.

Follow Elizabeth Newman @TigerELN. Email her at [email protected].