Relationships, time, happiness and money (and a private chef).

My job is sometimes so all encompassing that it is hard to distill it down to one line.  But if I had to, it would be "I help people get the most happiness out of the money that they have".  Happiness means different things to different people but science has started to shed some light on what, in general, makes people happier. Harvard have conducted the longest study into happiness and it makes for fascinating reading.  You can watch the TED talk here.  The study started in 1938 (during the Great Depression) when they started tracking the health and happiness of 268 sophomores.  They hoped to reveal clues about what it is that leads to healthy and happy lives.  Over the years the study group expanded to include the sophomores' children, and (thankfully) later their wives, and then it added Boston inner-city residents.

The study looked at these men's (and more recently women's) "health trajectories and their broader lives, including their triumphs and failures in careers and marriage, and the findings have produced startling lessons".


The director of the study says that "the surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health.  Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too."

They found that close relationships help to delay mental and physical decline.  Things like social class, IQ, and even genes come second in importance to the quality of your relationships in the quest to live a long and healthy life.  The study also found that a happy marriage has a protective influence on mental health.

It's old-as-the-hills wisdom (my grandmother and mother would both say it's pretty obvious stuff) but it's easy to forget when we forge ahead in this society where our drive for 'success' leaves us with little time to spend with the people we love.  And sadly, despite the rise in incomes in developed worlds, people are less happy today than they were 30 years ago.  One of the main reasons for our reduction in happiness is that people with higher incomes report higher time scarcity.  And if you loop back to the Harvard study, suffering from a feeling of 'there is not enough time' leaves us with relationships that are less than optimal.  Almost every week I have a high-powered professional in my office telling me that they just need more time.  Feelings of time stress are linked to lower well-being, including reduced happiness, increased anxiety, and insomnia.

A recent study looked at this phenomena of time scarcity.  It showed that people who spend money in order to save time are happier and less stressed than those that don't.  By outsourcing tasks that don't bring them pleasure people reported an improved mood that day, and overall they were more satisfied with their life. However, the study did suggest that the benefits might only be up to a certain point and if you start spending too much money on time-saving services it can actually undermine your happiness (perhaps because people start to suffer from feelings of guilt and a lack of purpose).

So I wonder where the balance lies.  Ordering a take-out is a classic time-saving purchase.  In our house we do it every Friday night.  I used to love cooking before I had children and was known to spend all Saturday sourcing and preparing an evening meal for friends.  Now, with three small children and a full-time job, cooking at the end of the day is literally the last thing I want to do.  I would go so far to say it fills me with a sense of dread.  Thankfully my amazing husband seems to have (mostly) taken over this part of our lives recently (and long may it continue...).  But if we could order a nutritious meal every evening, would we feel happier?  Or is the reason we get so much satisfaction from our Friday night take-out because we only do it on a Friday night?

I think the study is particularly pertinent for us women, many of whom have a career but still put in a "second-shift" at home every evening (I know plenty of men do too).  If you can affordto pay someone to help you at home (to cook or clean or do anything else you don't like doing), but you don't, what is holding you back?  Science shows that it might increase your mood, make you happier and help you live longer.  If you ever need a reason to do something I don't think you could find a better reason than that.

Private chef for me it is then.