Harvard School of Business associate professor Michael Norton and Elizabeth Dunn, an associate professor at UBC, did a bunch of research on the relationship between happiness and money. They published their findings in a new book called Happy Money: The Science of Spending Smarter. The main message – it’s as we’ve always suspected; being rich can make you happy.
Buying happiness is not as easy as going to some happiness retail outlet and perusing the racks for something in your size.
In fact, one of the key findings in the book is that one of the best ways to buy happiness is to buy something for someone else. Whether that’s a gift, a dinner or making a donation, they found that money spent on other people was one of the biggest boosts to happiness.
If there were a ‘Happiness Emporium,’ its shelves would be stocked with life experiences. The authors determined that spending money on doing things (like vacations or dining out with friends) was so much more happiness-inducing than the ‘stuff’ we tend to gravitate toward as happiness providers. That’s right, taking your kids whale watching of the East Coast (along with the anticipation and the memories) produces more joy than a new flat screen TV.
Recent headlines quoted billionaire Bernie Ecclestone as saying that he’s never been happy despite his enormous Formula One fortune. While this seems to contradict the book’s findings, it could very well be that he just didn’t know where to shop.
The good news is that you don’t have to have a lot of money to buy happiness. That’s right – happiness can come cheap! Here’s how to spend your money and fill your canvas shopping bag with pure joy.
Buy for others. Whether it’s the classic paying for the person behind you at the drive thru or slipping a fiver into a busker’s tin. They’ll be happy and you’ll be happy. Warm fuzzies all around.
Consider the lifestyle cost. We sometimes buy things thinking they will make us happy only to discover there is a massive tax on our lifestyle. Take for example buying a house so expensive that you can’t afford to eat out with friends or you have to take a second job just to pay the bills. You’re paying for that house with lifestyle sacrifices.
Be thrifty. Yes, it is possible to pick up some seriously discounted happiness at bargain basement prices. Spend your money wisely and look for those deals on experiences (like last minute travel), social occasions (host a dinner party instead of going to a restaurant) and keep a pocketful of coins so you can say ‘sure, buddy’ instead of ‘sorry, buddy’ the next time someone asks if you can spare a dime.
Make it special. If you buy the same happiness every day it might start to feel like the status quo. Instead, save up for something really special like a big trip or a big party, and savour it. That’s like a triple dip on happiness – the joy of anticipation, the pleasure of the event and then the reverie of the memory.
There are plenty of ways to buy happiness, and you don’t have to be super rich to do it. Maybe it’s time to update that old saying to ‘money can buy you happiness as long as you don’t trick yourself into believing that happiness is stuff.’