Happiness = Money, right?
Research suggests that happiness and money are poorly correlated. In other words, money doesn’t tend to make people happy. Pretty crazy, right? Everything about our society seems to be predicated around the synergy of these two variables. But most of the time, happiness is correlated to other behaviors (i.e., closeness to friends, enjoyment at work, and balance in life).
In this consumer-driven society, encouraged to buy from our very own presidents and leadership, we are primed and ready to spend and spend – well beyond our budgetary restrictions. Our world tends to eschew philosophical questions about why you need to have something, in favor of taking advantage of the present moment to spend.
Happiness is often a marketing tool, used to increase sales. For instance, a commercial may feature scantily-clad women partying with beers in hand. It doesn’t take a scientist to decipher the claim: drink more beer, get more women – prettier ones, too! But lasting happiness isn’t at the end of a bottle.
You’re Doing It Wrong
In Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort wreaks havoc on financial markets, his family, and to anyone else in his way. He has a ruthless charm, narcissism, and greed. He spends and drives recklessly. Jordan is the living embodiment of a metastasized compulsion to capitalism.
What our antagonist fails to understand is that happiness, purpose, and meaning are not contained within another $100 bill (or, however many millions he makes). Who can blame him, though? When a society values money like we do, and encourages spending without regard for the future, he’s actually playing by our rules.
Moreover, he’s not alone. Many struggle to understand and say “no” to a society that propagates this need to spend and make more money. But what if money did actually make you happy? What if there was a way to make these two things more correlated?
An Action-Plan For Money And Happiness
Newer research suggests that money can make you happy, but up until now we’ve been spending it wrong. All the beer, fast cars, and yachts can’t make us happy. Instead, happiness comes from some specific action-oriented spending.
- Take the trip, ditch the tchotchkes
When it comes to happiness, buying material goods rarely suffices. Whatever positive emotions are initially experienced tend to fade rapidly over time. In fact, 57% of people reported greater happiness from experiential purchases versus 34% for those purchasing material goods.
- Give a little, give a lot – just give
Researchers found that personal spending – buying for yourself – did not relate to long-term happiness. On the other hand, those who spent money on others acknowledged greater happiness. When you think about all of your expenses for a month, it might help to think about how much of that is going to help others.
- The tiny purchases are more important
Unlike Jordan Belfort and his bags of cash, you’ll likely be restricted by current bank account balances. When you purchase expensive, rare items, there’s a finality and adjustment that occurs – a new norm develops. If you buy smaller, more frequent items, you actually can take advantage of novelty and variability – both key health indicators.
- Avoid extended warranties and overpriced insurance
Turns out that there’s quite a lot of psychological evidence to suggest that buying extended warranties may be an unnecessary “emotional protection.” Essentially, because we do not want to lose/damage our new purchase, these warranties pull out an emotional response regarding loss. Most of the time, buying or reacting to this makes you spend more than you have to and occludes happiness.
- Delay gratification, consumption
Researchers suggest that “anticipation” is a key ingredient to a healthy, happy purchase. By waiting to purchase and letting that eagerness build, we may actually enjoy it more when we finally have it. Likewise, by delaying purchases, consumers may spend less – or not at all.
- Clear pros and cons
Looking to buy that dream home someday? Where do you envision it? Maybe you want to buy a dream lakehouse? Researchers found that many people tend to downplay the negatives of an imagined purchase. What about the tax implications, a plumbing issue while you’re away, and/or an exceptionally mosquito-filled summer? Imagined happiness is often easier than the reality of an impending purchase. By trying to realistically imagine your purchase, while creating an objective, logical pro and con list, you may be able to avoid this pitfall.
- Don’t dare compare
We’re notoriously awful comparison shoppers/buyers; at least, when we account for happiness. Dunn, Gilbert, and Wilson (2011) found that Harvard University students living in their residential system tended to downplay social ties and try to pick physical features of a building first.
…when these students later settled into their houses as sophomores and juniors, their happiness was predicted by the quality of social features but not by the quality of physical features in the houses.
The point is that even though the social features matter far more, before we choose something, we don’t always process and think about our own social needs. Interpersonal connections with others are necessary for most everyone, and they tend to bring greater happiness.
- Think of others’ enjoyment, too
Online review sites and movie rankings bring swaths of people to rate their own experience with a product or experience. By utilizing these websites, you can measure your own enjoyment and future experience to theirs. If lots of people experienced happiness, odds are you will, too!
This action plan for making happiness from money is based off the research by Dunn, Gilbert, & Wilson (2011). They found that people were spending their money inappropriately, thinking they’d be happy, when there were better ways.
How do you spend your money? What do you do to find long-term happiness?