I think that the relationship between money and happiness is one of the most interesting, most complicated, and most sensitive questions in the study of happiness.
Studies show, unsurprisingly, that money’s impact on happiness is greatest when you have the least amount of money.
But if you’re one of the lucky people who has enough money to cover the basics – food, shelter, even a car — does that mean that money can’t make a difference to your happiness?
Some happiness experts argue yes, but I think that’s…ridiculous.
The secret to using money to buy happiness is to spend money in ways that support your happiness goals.
Imagine that you have a certain amount of extra cash. How should you spend it?
One option: a fancy new TV set. Enticing. The fact is, however, that the new TV won’t give you much happiness bang for your buck. The “hedonic treadmill” describes our tendency to adapt quickly to changed circumstances — which means you’ll get a big kick out of the TV for a short while, but you’ll soon take it for granted.
The hedonic treadmill means that buying STUFF isn’t very satisfying, but there are ways to spend money that are likely to help give you enduring happiness. Spend money to…
1. Strengthen bonds with family and friends. Studies show that having close relationships is one of the most important elements of a happy life. Pay for a plane ticket to visit your brother’s new baby, go to your college reunion, throw a Superbowl party.
2. End marital conflict. If you’re constantly arguing about the unkempt lawn, or the moldering laundry, see if you can throw some money at the problem. Can you hire the teenager down the street to clean out the garage?
3. Upgrade your exercise. Studies show that one of the quickest and surest ways to boost your mood is to exercise. If spending money on a new iPod, a more convenient gym, or a new pair of yoga pants will make it easier to get yourself off the couch, that’s a good happiness investment.
4. Think about fun. Ask yourself – and be honest – what’s fun for you? Fishing, bird-watching, travel, hunting through flea markets, experimenting in the kitchen, skiing, scrapbooking? Make sure that your calendar reflects some activities that you are doing just for FUN. For happiness, you’re better off using your money to have a great experience than to gain a possession.
5. Serenity and security. Peace of mind is critical to happiness, so use the money to pay down your debts or to add to your savings.
6. Pay more for healthy food. It’s a sad fact that fruits, vegetables, and healthy food are more expensive than fast food, but eating healthfully will pay off in the long run, in terms of your good health and energy.
7. Spend the money on someone else. One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make someone else happy. Think about ways you could spend the money that would make a big difference to someone else — whether someone you know, or a cause you support. How many new books could the library’s children’s room add to the shelves?
8. Think about YOUR priorities. Two years ago, some friends decided to skip an anniversary trip so they could use the money to buy a super-expensive Dux bed. I thought this was a bad idea, because the “hedonic treadmill” would mean that they’d quickly get used to the new bed. Oh, no. They still rave about their Dux bed. So maybe that fancy new TV set would mean a lot to you, although I, for one, would hardly notice the difference. As always, the key to any happiness question is to know yourself, and what makes YOU happy.
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