Money CAN buy happiness

Sometimes my Spending Smart column gets shortened considerably to fit in the newspaper. Here is the full version of Sunday’s column. It seemed to generate interest, being picked up by many newspapers across the country.

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What’s your opinion on the money/happiness link?

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By Gregory Karp

Maybe money can’t buy love, but it might buy happiness. Or, at least, how you spend money can affect your happiness.

The money-happiness link is a topic of much research and pondering lately. The question is often whether more money makes us happier. Apparently, it does up to a point – until our basic needs our met. Making the rent, putting food on the table and having gas money achieves a base level of happiness.

But what about after that? Can you spend discretionary money in such a way that it makes you happier?

Gretchen Rubin thinks so. A lawyer by training – Yale Law School and clerk for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor — Rubin switched to a writing career and, later, embarked on a single mission. She began to investigate the sources of happiness and obstacles to obtaining it. She sought out writings from Aristotle to Benjamin Franklin to modern academic studies. She regularly reports on those findings in her blog, The Happiness Project, happiness-project.com, and will in a forthcoming book by the same name due for release early next year.

“Money-and-happiness is one of the most emotional, complicated subsets of happiness,” Rubin said. “It just permeates everyone’s life. Everybody struggles with it, even more now with the recession.”

Here are a few keys to spending for happiness.

-Know thyself. Cookie-cutter advice about what you should spend money on is ridiculous, Rubin said. “When it comes to money and happiness, people pretend that everybody is the same,” Rubin said. “That’s just not true.” Use a three-step evaluation. First, reflect on what brings joy to your life. Next, determine what makes you feel guilty, angry, resentful and generally unhappy. Third, examine areas where you’re growing, where life is getting better, where you’re making a difference. “Once you’ve looked at those three things, you ask yourself, ‘How can I use money to help me?’” Rubin said.

-Buy experiences, not stuff. This might be the best advice for your discretionary dollars. Buy concert or sporting-event tickets instead of a new wristwatch. Buy a vacation package instead of a third television. Anytime you can buy the chance for a positive life experience, especially with other people, it will probably make you happier than accumulating more material possessions, academic research shows. And unlike consumer products that plummet in value, memories of positive experiences often appreciate over time, like fine wine. Also spend on novelty and challenge, two other factors that tend to increase happiness, Rubin said.

-Do a happiness redo. Related to experiential spending is recalling happy memories. So money may be well spent on a digital camera, video recorder, photo albums and mementos that help you recall happy times.

-Throw money at a problem. If marital strife is dampening your happiness, and conflict stems from arguments over housecleaning, hiring maid service can be money well spent. If mowing the lawn makes you miserable, hiring a lawn service might add to your happiness. “If you can throw money at the problem, sometimes that’s the best solution,” Rubin said.

-Get your money house in order. Feeling safe and in control are keys to happiness. “Money goes right dead-center to feelings of control and security,” Rubin said. So, make a plan to get out of debt and start funding money goals, such as an emergency fund, retirement savings and kids college expenses. “Things like that really do boost happiness,” she said.

-Buy help toward goals. Consider spending money on things that help you achieve non-savings goals, too, which will lead to happiness. If buying fancy ingredients at the supermarket means you’ll dine out less, go for it. You’ll probably save money overall and calories. Take a class if you want to become a better photographer. For some, buying an iPod to use while exercising or joining a fitness center will help them achieve health goals. Exercising has the bonus effect of giving you more energy, contributing to health and generally making you happier, Rubin said.

-Giving. Donating money might make you happy because it helps you live your values. That promotes self-satisfaction, an important component of happiness. Quick tip: If you’re feeling poor or financially overwhelmed, one free and easy way to give is to become an organ donor. See www.donatelife.net.

“I really believe people can make themselves happier by doing small, concrete things in their everyday life,” Rubin said. One ridiculous-but-true act to increase happiness? Make your bed in the morning. Rubin said she’s not quite sure why it’s true but readers swear by it.

Next week, we’ll look at a happiness problem rarely mentioned: spending too little.

4 Responses to “Money CAN buy happiness”

  1. Hi Greg-
    I saw the nice mention of my blog, The Happiness Project, here. I very much appreciate those kind words and you shining a spotlight on my blog! Thanks and best wishes, Gretchen Rubin

  2. Hi Greg,

    interesting thoughts!

    I believe that it’s not possible to make a general statement on whether money makes people more or less happy. Money comes with a whole set of new elements that may have good or bad impact on our happiness, and depending on how susceptible we are to every one of them, the conclusion will go one way or the other (i.e. different from person to person).

    I recently made an effort to provide a more comprehensive picture of what these ad- and disadvantages are. I invite you to have a look at http://www.spreadinghappiness.org/2009/08/money-how-much-should-we-strive-for-it-to-become-happy/ and tell me what you think!

    Thank you,

    Nick

  3. […] also discussed the relationship between money and happiness. Karp recently interviewed Gretchen Rubin from The Happiness Project. Karp says he’s learned that there are a number of […]

  4. 84 132.

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