It’s common knowledge that happiness cannot be bought – all the cars, homes and jewels in the world will not solve your emotional or existential dilemmas. However, money can have a positive influence in one’s life.
Of course, there is no exact science to measure an increase in happiness, and the term means different things to different people. A cold beer on a hot day might make a thirsty man temporarily as happy as a rich man who buys another luxury car.
That being said, here are some ways that experts say you can pay for happiness:
One of the leading causes of stress in life is worrying about your financial stability. Debts, loans and salaries can cause sleepless nights. Instead of letting your finances take over your life, start to buy your happiness back by settling outstanding issues. When you find that you have some extra cash, put it towards your debt. It might take time to chip away at large sums, but every little bit counts.
Turn Cash into Experience
While physical objects can be nice, life experiences and the lessons and memories derived from them are priceless. A great vacation or interesting educational course will stay with you forever, unlike a quickly-obsolete phone or trendy piece of clothing. Every new experience provides a chance to learn about yourself and the world around you, and maybe even meet new people. The possibilities for added happiness are endless. In a study done at Harvard, 57% of subjects reported increased happiness due to experiential purchases. Alternatively, only 34% had the same feelings after material purchases. Author Dan Gilbert, the leader of the research, said, “When it comes to happiness, the nature of the activity in which people are engaged seems to matter less than the fact that they are engaged in it… people were maximally happy when they were thinking about what they were doing, and time-lag analyses revealed that mind-wandering was a cause, and not merely an effect, of diminished happiness. A wandering mind is an unhappy mind, and one of the benefits of experiences is that they keep us focused on the here and now.”
Elizabeth Dunn, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, found that making large purchases usually didn’t make people any happier. “This was one of the most surprising findings I came across. It’s quite striking that what so many of us are pouring our incomes into turns out not to have that big an impact on happiness. The human happiness system is fundamentally attuned to change and houses are very stable.”
Why do we automatically think about ourselves when we think about buying happiness?! The truth is that it might be even more spiritually valuable and pleasurable to spend money on others, instead.
Michael Norton, in his TED talk, spoke about an experiment he conducted in which subjects were given a sum of money to be spent on a daily basis. While a percentage of the test subjects were directed to purchase things for themselves, others were told to buy stuff for others. A similar experiment was performed in Uganda – and both yielded the same results: those who shopped for others reported more happiness. Of course, shopping is not the only method – donating money to a charity follows the same principle. Making investments for others is another option. In that way, money spent can multiply, rather than lose, its value when translated into something like a car.
Buy the Right Stuff
There is a time-tested principle that everyone should be aware of: spend your money where you spend your time. Known as “the comfort principle,” it’s pretty straightforward. If you spend many hours at your workplace, invest in a comfortable chair. If your big pleasure in life is watching football games, perhaps splurge on the best TV you can find. Spending money on stuff that you realistically will never use is a big waste and will not yield big happiness dividends.
One could break down a day in the average person’s life into these shopping categories:
Of course, your own personal list might be different. You know where and how you spend most of your time. As we mentioned before, invest in “experiential items” whenever possible. Just like with buying experiences, experiential items offer you excitement and joy over extended periods of time. A good book that you’ll enjoy reading over and over, or even a video game that gives hours of entertainment, are good examples of these.
Buy More Time
The saying goes, “Time is money.” We all experience times when we wish that there were more hours in the day to accomplish what we need and/or want to. It is possible, however, to buy more time for yourself. For example, hiring help around the house will clear up several hours for you to accomplish more important things. Whether it’s paying extra for a faster delivery service, or buying prepared food as opposed to cooking – you can probably use the new free time to recover whatever you spend, or in some other useful way.
Beware of the Risks
Before laying out big money in the pursuit of happiness, it’s worth mentioning that there are some dangers. Firstly, keep your expectations realistic; as we mentioned at the start of this piece, spending money does not directly translate to increased joy. In addition, stay true to yourself in this money-for-happiness campaign. Spend on things you know you enjoy – not what others convince you is “right.” Wasting money on something you didn’t really want in the first place is only detrimental. Lastly, if you start making more money, it doesn’t mean that you should be spending more of it. What some people call “lifestyle inflation” will keep you on the edge of financial instability instead of allowing for wiggle room and/or savings.
With all of those warnings behind you, it’s time to go out and find exciting and pleasurable ways to use your money. Maybe an exciting start-up investment or stock will keep you busy and curious for the next few months. A deserved vacation can allow you to go back to work with a clear head and even more earning potential. Happiness is not a place but a journey, which cannot be bought. But, money probably can’t hurt the search, either.