Should you take that job with the pay bump even though it adds an hour to your commute? It is better to deep clean your house or pay someone to do it for you?

From big life decisions to small daily ones, we're faced with tradeoffs between our time and money. Happiness research suggests that we're better off prioritizing our time, if we have the expendable income to spare. You'll be happier with the shorter commute and outsourcing housework because you'll have more time to yourself.

Let how you spend your time drive your happiness

A new study from Harvard reinforces this growing body of research. Harvard Business School professor Ashley Whillans collected data from 1,000 college students and new graduates from the University of British Columbia. As they made career decisions, Whillans asked questions to gauge whether they prioritized their time or money more. After two years, those who valued time were happier and more satisfied with their lives and careers. 

Though the study focused on recent graduates, the results are good reminder for us all. Before making a big career decision, ask yourself: Is one path more attractive because it's what I really want to do? Or am I just excited about the salary? 

True, a better paycheck could mean a better quality of life. However, the job might be really stressful, require a lot of travel, have a long commute, or just be something you're not all that interested in doing for 40 hours a week. Think hard about all these tradeoffs. Ultimately, it's better to let how your spend your time be the guiding light -- not the money. 

Whillans shared plenty of caveats about her results. Some people choose money over time not because they're greedy. The study was conducted with Canadian students, who don't incur as much student debt as American students do. Financial insecurity also drives these decisions, especially if you grew up in a financially unstable home. 

Thinking twice about getting that MBA

Students focused on money went straight to business school or took full-time roles. Others took some time before jumping into full-time work or were more likely to attend graduate school. Can you guess which group reported better happiness and life satisfaction? 

Those who made decisions based on what was meaningful and fulfilling reported greater happiness. When money is the sole motivator driving your career decisions, you might not be happy about where you end up. 

You can still be happy working long hours

Those who were happier weren't necessarily working fewer hours. They were still logging 50- to 60-hour weeks. 

It made all the difference that they made career moves based on what they wanted to do, rather than what they felt like they "should" do. Salary wasn't the only thing motivating them to take a particular job. Instead, these recent grads pursued positions they found gratifying and enjoyable. ​

Published on: Jul 29, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.