How to buy happiness

How to buy happiness April 19, 2024

Israel followed through on its promises to retaliate against Iran last night by attacking the country directly for the first time since war broke out with Hamas and other Iranian proxy forces last October. As we wait for more details to emerge, this will be the subject of a special edition Daily Article later today. However, before continuing on with today’s article, please take a moment to pray for peace, for wisdom, and for discernment for all those involved in deciding where this conflict will go from here.

  • For more on how the conflict reached this point and where it is likely to go from here, see Dr. Jim Denison’s “War in Israel.”

There’s little you or I can do to change the decisions of nations halfway across the world. However, that doesn’t mean those decisions won’t have an impact on our lives. As such, it can be easy to feel disheartened and overwhelmed.

Most of us understand that giving in to those emotions does little to make our lives better. That knowledge doesn’t make resisting them easy, but it should serve as a good reminder that when we worry about things beyond our control, we compound the problem by wasting our most precious resource: time.

So let’s now turn our attention to learning how we can better manage the time God has given us in order to maximize our joy and effectiveness for the kingdom.

Money can buy happiness

One of the better-known cliches in our culture is the idea that money can’t buy happiness. And, in most cases, that’s true. However, studies have found that there is one way that spending money does often correlate to a greater satisfaction with life: when we use it to buy time.

As Jenna Gallegos describes, “Across all surveys, life satisfaction was typically higher for people who regularly spend money to save time. This was true regardless of household income, hours worked per week, marital status and number of children living at home.”

For example, hiring someone to clean your house or mow your yard has been proven to be a far more effective use of those funds than buying seats to watch your favorite team or purchasing that outfit you’ve had your eye on. That’s not to say such purchases are pointless, but the research is clear that they will have a much briefer impact on our happiness than when we free ourselves up to do more of what we want to do.

Of course, the effectiveness of such a strategy is contingent on how we use the time we’ve purchased. And, unfortunately, it appears many of us are pretty bad at that.

The temptation to idleness

In a recent article titled “How to be less busy and more happy,” Arthur C. Brooks discusses a recent study on why we are often so bad at using our time in ways that genuinely improve our lives.

The research found that roughly 60 percent of Americans “sometimes feel too busy to enjoy life.” That number goes up to 74 percent for those with children under the age of eighteen. As the father of ten- and seven-year-old children, I also suspect that means another 26 percent of Americans in that demographic are lying.

But, as Brooks goes on to describe, the answer is not as simple as saying “no” to more things or trying to do less. Both of those solutions can help to an extent, but the real problem for many of us is that even if we manage to find more free time, we’re likely to use it poorly.

He cautions that “If we don’t know how to use it, free time can become idleness, which leads to boredom—and humans hate boredom.” Instead, the temptation is often to fill that time with frivolous or non-urgent matters that make us feel more productive while doing little to actually improve our mental and emotional state.

Whether it’s emails and phone calls that can wait, scrolling through social media, or a host of other endeavors that take up the random bits of free time we receive throughout the day—1.8 hours for the average American—it’s remarkably simple to waste the time at our disposal on things that do little to improve our quality of life. Yet, those moments of freedom are often when we are at our most productive.

Google, for example, sets aside 20 percent of their engineers’ time for projects of their own choosing. And while taking up a fifth of a workweek on non-essential tasks may seem like a recipe for disaster, more than half of the company’s highest revenue-generating products—primarily Gmail, Google Maps, and Google Earth—are the result of that 20 percent.

So what steps can we take to better manage the free time we’re either given or purchase for ourselves?

“Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed”

Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus take the time to slow down and get away from the madness that so often surrounded him. Luke, for example, tells us that Jesus “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). The Greek tense clarifies that such actions were a regular part of his ministry.

However, that pattern of withdrawing to pray is telling for another reason as well. When Luke drops that little tidbit about Christ into his Gospel, he does so in the midst of stories describing all the amazing things Jesus was doing in the towns and villages he visited.

Our Lord didn’t wait until there was no more work to be done or people to heal before getting away because he knew that life seldom affords us such natural breaks. Rather, Jesus was intentional about setting aside time to get away from the never-ending list of genuinely good and important things to simply be with the Father and rest.

As Christians, we frequently talk about stewardship and how we are to give back to God from what he has so graciously given to us. We often neglect, however, to take into account our most precious resource: time.

If God has blessed us with the means to buy ourselves a little bit of free time every now and again or we find breaks in our workweek that are not already spoken for, perhaps part of the reason is to better enable us to spend that time with him.

But whether that means paying someone to clean the house, saying no to serving on a committee at church, or letting that blank space on your calendar stay blank, most of us could benefit by following Christ’s example and making time with the Father a higher priority in our lives.

Will you?

Quote of the day

“Rest time is not waste time. It is economy to gather fresh strength…it is wisdom to take occasional furlough. In the long run, we shall do more by sometimes doing less.” —Charles Spurgeon

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