I’m sure you’ve heard this saying before, “money can’t buy happiness”. People who know me well enough know that I’m not a big fan of blanket statements or speaking in absolutes, and this certainly applies in this case. Research suggests that money can actually buy you happiness if you spend it in specific ways.
Studies have shown that if you are able to meet your basic needs financially, then the principles that I am about to share with you apply to everyone, regardless of net worth, level of income or socioeconomic status.
Recently, researchers at San Francisco University have reached similar findings to previous studies on happiness. Most of the physical things that we buy will increase our happiness sharply at the moment of purchase, but this happiness will fade away in the ensuing weeks. Usually, 60 days after we have purchased a tangible object, most of us will return to the same level of happiness before the object was acquired.
Buying experiences, however (such as taking a vacation, going to dinner or a show), is a whole different ball game. When we buy an experience, however big or small, our body is inundated with happiness-inducing hormones all throughout the process of the experience. Our happiness level increases when we are planning the experience, when we look forward to it, when we have the actual experience, and when we look back at the fond memories (even for years in some cases).
For instance, if you take a look at my diary, you’ll see that I have a permanent recurring meeting every Friday evening from 6 pm to 9.30 pm. This entry is labelled “Paula and daddy night out”. When I’m in town, every Friday evening I collect my 10-year-old daughter from school and take her to dinner and a movie. If for some pressing reason I’ll be unavailable that Friday evening, I will reschedule for the next day or the day after that (my daughter is a savvy negotiator :-))
During my work week, every time I glance at that diary entry, I get a hit of dopamine and serotonin (the happiness hormones). This instant hormonal bath will increase my sense of wellbeing, will make me more resilient to face the potential rigours of the week and will make me healthier (dopamine and serotonin are immunoregulators that fine-tune our immune system).
Having your diary packed with scattered experiences throughout the week is a sound strategy to increase your levels of happiness.
Not all experiences require money expenditure, but if you have some disposable income that you want to put to good use, then the following suggestions have the potential to increase your levels of happiness:
1.-Spend money on experiences instead of material things. Remember that we rarely get bored with cherished memories like we do with physical objects.
2.-Spend money on someone. Harvard researchers found that spending on oneself provides an ephemeral wellbeing boost compared to the lasting wellbeing effect of spending on others. Remember that the amount spent is not that relevant.
3.-Give your money away in person. Rather than posting a check to your charity of choice, hand that check in person and spend time with the beneficiaries of your donation. If you encounter a person in need on the street, give this person something (money, food, reassuring words), look at him/her in the eyes and assess how you feel.
4.-Spend within your means. I can’t emphasise enough the fact that the amount spent is not relevant. It’s the action in itself which counts.