How Money Can Buy You Happiness

by  Janet Behm  on  Tuesday, July 03, 2018
 How Money Can Buy You Happiness

By Janet Behm, Utah Real Estate Accountants

Despite assertions to the contrary, science tells us that money can buy happiness. To a point. From a recent study (my emphasis):

We report an analysis of more than 450,000 responses to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, a daily survey of 1,000 US residents conducted by the Gallup Organization. […] When plotted against income, life evaluation rises steadily. Emotional well-being also rises with log income, but there is no further progress beyond an annual income of ~$75,000. For reference, the federal poverty level for a family of four is currently $25,100. Once you reach a little over 3 times the poverty level in income, you've achieved peak happiness, as least far as money alone can reasonably get you.

This is something I've seen echoed in a number of studies. Once you have "enough" money to satisfy the basic items at the foot of the Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs pyramid – that is, you no longer must worry about food, shelter, security, and perhaps having a bit of extra discretionary money for the unknown – stacking even more money up doesn't do much, if anything, to help you scale the top of the pyramid.

But even if you're fortunate enough to have a good income, how you spend your money has a strong influence on how happy – or unhappy – it will make you. And, again, there's science behind this. The relevant research is summarized in a recent study in Journal of Consumer Psychology by a quartet of Harvard researchers: If money doesn't make you happy, then you probably aren't spending it right:

Most people don't know the basic scientific facts about happiness — about what brings it and what sustains it — and so they don't know how to use their money to get it. It is not surprising when wealthy people who know nothing about wine end up with cellars that aren't much better stocked than their neighbors', and it shouldn’t be surprising when wealthy people who know nothing about happiness end up with lives that aren't that much happier than anyone else's. Money is a chance for happiness, but it is an opportunity that people routinely squander because the things they think will make them happy often don't.

What is, then, the science of happiness? I'll summarize the basic six points as best I can…

  1. Buy experiences instead of things

Things get old. Things become ordinary. But experiences are totally unique; they shine like diamonds in your memory, often more brightly every year, and they can be shared forever. Whenever possible, spend money on experiences such as taking your family to Disney World, rather than things like a new television.

  1. Help others instead of yourself

Anything we can do with money to create deeper connections with others tends to tighten our social connections and reinforce positive feelings about ourselves and others. Imagine ways you can spend some part of your money to help others – even in a very small way – and integrate that into your regular spending habits.

  1. Smaller purchases are more satisfying

Because we adapt so readily to change, the most effective use of your money is to bring frequent change. Break up large purchases, when possible, into smaller ones over time so that you can savor the entire experience. When it comes to happiness, frequency is more important than intensity. Discover how many small, pleasurable purchases are more effective than a single giant one.

  1. Pay now and consume later

Immediate gratification can lead you to make purchases you can't afford or may not even truly want. Impulse buying also deprives you of the distance necessary to make reasoned decisions. It eliminates any sense of anticipation, which is a strong source of happiness. For maximum happiness, savor (maybe even prolong!) the uncertainty of deciding whether to buy, what to buy, and the time waiting for the object of your desire to arrive.

  1. Think about what you're not thinking about

We tend to gloss over details when considering future purchases, but research shows that our happiness (or unhappiness) largely lies in exactly those tiny details we aren't thinking about. Before making a major purchase, consider the mechanics and logistics of owning this thing, and where your actual time will be spent once you own it. Try to imagine a typical day in your life, in some detail, hour by hour: how will it be affected by this purchase?

  1. Beware of comparison shopping

Comparison shopping focuses us on attributes of products that arbitrarily distinguish one product from another but have nothing to do with how much we'll enjoy the purchase. They emphasize things we care about while shopping, but not necessarily what we'll care about when actually using what we just bought. In other words, getting a great deal on cheap chocolate for $2 may not matter if it's not fun to eat.

Happiness is a lot harder to come by than money. So, when you do spend money, keep these lessons in mind to maximize what happiness it can buy for you. And remember: it's science!


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