Happiness need not be fleeting, and one needn’t be a millionaire to be content. Research shows it’s not how much you earn but how you spend it. Here are 5 ways you can step off the hedonic treadmill and use your hard-earned money to infuse your life with happiness.
Elizabeth Dunn and colleagues find that the more people spend on others (donations and gifts for others), the happier they are. In contrast, spending on oneself is not related to happiness. These findings hold for even small amounts of cash. In one study, the researchers gave participants either $5 or $20. Participants who were instructed to spend the money on others were more happy as a result than those who were instructed to spend it on oneself. The amount of money participants spent did not matter. What mattered was what they did with it.
We are inundated with media suggesting that happiness comes from owning things. Challenging this view, Van Boven and Gilovich show that spending money on experiences brings people more happiness – and for a longer period of time – than spending money on material goods. The key to garnering happiness from experiences is related to money-happiness principle #1: Peter Caprariello and Harry Reis find that spending money on experiences with others is what makes us particularly happy.
OK, so spend your money on social experiences. But what kind of experiences make us most happy? Research suggests it depends on your age. Amit Bhattacharjee and Cassie Mogilner find that younger people derive more happiness from extraordinary experiences (uncommon and infrequent) while older people derive more happiness from ordinary experiences (common and frequent). What is more, enjoying common life experiences can help boost your goal progress.
The happiness we derive from buying things that give us pleasure is fleeting. However, buying things that give us meaning – that promote self-growth, purpose, and connection with others – can give us longer lasting happiness. While the start-up costs of such pursuits may be higher – it may involve a learning curve, going outside of our comfort zone, or even a higher ticket price than we’d like – we reap the benefits in the long run.
We can make more money, but we can’t generate more time. So use your money to buy yourself some time. Research conducted in the USA, Canada, Denmark, and the Netherlands finds that spending money on time-saving services promotes happiness and life satisfaction. So go ahead and order groceries online instead of going to the store, or don’t feel guilty for hiring someone to paint the house. In modern life, we are time starved, and it feels good to have that much more time to do something that truly brings you happiness.
These 5 spending strategies are mindful and long-term focused. Instead of being drawn into the temptation trap, take a deep breath, step back, and find ways to use your money to connect you with yourself and others.