You don’t need an advanced degree to know that financially well-off people have the means to buy top-notch creature comforts and the best quality health care along with luxuries like second homes, sexy sports’ cars, and plastic surgery (should nature not endow them with perfect features). But can money buy happiness? We who are not wealthy take comfort in the saying, “Money can’t buy you happiness” because it assures us that we aren’t missing out on something just because we weren’t born into a trust-fund family.
But unfortunately, that saying is as lie. The truth is that MONEY CAN, INDEED, BUY YOU HAPPINESS. But what you spend your money on determines if you end up with short-term excitement, or lasting, long-term happiness.
Associate professor of psychology at Canada’s University of British Columbia, Elizabeth W. Dunn found little research on the correlation between money and happiness, so she began conducting some of her own studies. She and other researchers came to some very interesting conclusions that might shine a light on how the size your wealth relates to the state of your happiness.
1. Buy fewer things but more experiences. You might think that putting in that backyard swimming pool will bring you happiness. Sadly, that happiness rarely lasts. Why? Once the pool is in, you find that it’s not enough. You now need new outdoor furniture, pool toys, lights, pool covers, a security fence, etc. Then you need to have the pool maintained and cleaned. And once it’s “perfect”, most people move on to the next big project instead of savoring the joy of the current one. Toys provides short-term excitement, but not happiness. Research says that happiness increases when you invest in experiences. Instead of spending on toys, spend on travel. Rather than buying a Picasso to hang on your wall, learn to paint. Don’t focus so much on the $200 bottle of wine at the expense of missing out on the mountain view or something as sensational and free as a kaleidoscopic sunset. If you want to spend money on a gift for yourself, spend it on a gift that keeps on giving. In other words, don’t expect to experience happiness in things that are readily held, consumed, and gone.
2. Spend money on others, not yourself. Dunn’s team did an experiment with college students whereby she gave them cash ranging from $5-20 and asked them to spend it by the end of the day. These were college kids. It makes sense that they would spend that money on college-critical supplies like cigarettes and beer, right? Turns out, the students who spent their money on themselves experienced less happiness than those who spend the cash on someone else. Why is that? According to Dunn, “Almost anything we do to improve our connections with others tends to improve our happiness as well, and that includes spending money.” If you want to infuse some happiness into your day, drop some money in a Salvation Army kettle, give a donation to a local homeless, women’s, or animal shelter, or take a friend with you to the museum. Those who give of their time and money reap happiness, and the more you spread it around, the further it goes. That’s why former heads of state like Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, corporate titans like Bill Gates, and Hollywood celebrities like Matt Damon and Sean Penn spend so much time doing charitable work. Yes, certainly, their work helps others. But their giving makes then happier, too!
3. Consider the real cost before you spend your money. Years ago my cousin showed me his brand new Jaguar convertible. He pointed to the place where the cars’ iconic hood ornament had been removed. “You don’t want to know how much that little metal jaguar is going to cost to replace!” He explained to me that the actual cost of the car isn’t very high. But he told me between insurance, maintenance, and repairs, you need to figure spending about 1/4 of the cost of the car each year just to keep it going! People do this all of the time. They romanticize the benefits and minimize the true costs when they plan to make a purchase. That quiet home in the country sounds romantic, for example. But the reality is that most people don’t consider the social isolation, the bugs, the inconvenient commute to work, school, shopping, etc. And rarely do people account for the loss of access to city life, like nice restaurants, cultural and sporting events, etc. Dunn suggests that you do a realistic pro’s and con’s list before you open your checkbook in a pursuit of happiness. What does this have to do with buying happiness? Misery avoided is happiness gained!
So how are you going to buy some happiness today?