You’re not happy. Of course you’re not. Every moment of your life is accounted for, down to each agonising second. You wake up, you make breakfast. You wash up, you put some laundry on, you leave for work. You grind yourself down to a blistered nub at a job you resent, then you buy food on the way home, vacuum, help your kids with their homework, cook dinner, put your kids to bed, wash up, sort the laundry out and enjoy 45 seconds of a B-grade American prestige drama before you pass out from exhaustion fully clothed on your sofa. You did this yesterday, you are doing it today, and you will continue to do it every single day until you die. Of course you’re miserable.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. After decades spent flailing around in the dark, science has finally revealed the true path to happiness. The answer? Servants.
OK, fine, not servants exactly. But cleaners. If you spend £30 on a cleaner, you will be much happier than if you spent the same amount on material goods, according to researchers at the University of British Columbia, in Canada. They asked more than 6,000 adults in the US, Canada, Denmark and the Netherlands, including 800 millionaires, questions about how much money they spent on buying time.
Admittedly, the entire premise of this study was set in a magical wonderland where people have £30 to spend because their basic outgoings don’t already exceed their combined household income. Nevertheless, the theory goes that you’re not actually hiring someone to clean your house – or put up a shelf, or fix your leaky tap, or perform any number of other household chores; instead, you’re buying time. Time for you. Time you can spend grabbing a lungful of clean air amid the relentless drudgery of adulthood. Time you could spend learning a new language, or meeting like-minded people. Catching up on books you haven’t read, or films you haven’t seen. Or just easing your foot off the pedal a little. Everyone keeps telling you how important is it to be mindful, but mindfulness isn’t easy when you’re going hammer and tongs around the clock to equalise your domestic situation.
If that’s the case, this research makes perfect sense. You’ve been breaking your back Marie Kondo-ing your stamp-sized home into a state of relative emptiness, but all the while you just needed to experience the life-changing magic of paying someone else to tidy up.
Suddenly, everything makes sense. So long as you ignore obvious outliers, such as Arthur, half of Downton Abbey and Batman – all of whom had the strength of mind to remain staunchly glum despite their army of paid helpers – it’s perfectly clear that the key to lasting bliss is to delegate unpleasant tasks.
The worst thing about life is that there’s never a day off. A case in point: one day last week, I did three loads of washing, one after the other. I did so much washing that, for the first time in months, I saw the bottom of my laundry basket. “This is it,” I thought to myself. “I have completed laundry once and for all.” So I relaxed, safe in the knowledge that all my clothes were clean. Flash-forward to today, and the only clean pants I’ve got left are the crap ones my mum bought me for Christmas when she thought I was even more startlingly obese than I am.
Chores aren’t video games. There isn’t a final level with a boss battle. The moment you’ve finished, they reset and start again. Your dinner always needs cooking. Your path always needs weeding. And lawns! When I was making all that fuss about leaving London a couple of years ago, nobody warned me about lawns. A lawn, it turns out, is basically a carpet that is determined to kill you. You have to spend one afternoon a week attacking it with motorised knifes, otherwise it rises up and overwhelms you. Lawns are stupid. The countryside is stupid. It’s full of even more busywork for you to do.
Paying someone to share the load is bound to make you happier. Especially compared with buying things. Things are one of the greatest causes of stress around. Things take up room. My birthday is three weeks away, and I’m already bristling at the prospect of finding places to put any presents I receive. My house is already three Tupperware containers away from being the subject of a Hoarder Next Door documentary. I would much rather that money was spent on removing things rather than obtaining them.
Not to be trite, but time is the greatest luxury we have. We aren’t here for long, and nobody in the history of the world has ever died wishing they spent more time scrubbing at grout with a toothbrush. You just need one fleeting graze with mortality to realise that. Which isn’t to say that you should check out of all your obligations altogether, because a life without toil is a life without purpose. However, opportunities for happiness are few and far between. If striking that balance means getting someone in to clean the oven every few weeks, you would be a fool to miss it.