How to Buy Happiness
Have you heard this saying, Money can’t buy you happiness, but it can buy you a yacht big enough to pull up alongside it? I’m all for a yacht big enough (as well as Ferraris, Lamborghinis and all that cool stuff), but here is the question: how close to happiness can you actually pull up?
As a coach to high achievers, I’ve spent some time studying the science of happiness as well as having heart-to-heart conversations with millionaires and billionaires – those who are happy, not so happy and just plain miserable. Let me share a few things that you might find fascinating.
Can Money Buy Happiness?
We all know that money can buy many wonderful things including comfort, independence and flexibility, but what about this long-standing question: can money buy happiness? According to new research on the science of spending (yes, there is such a thing), the answer is Yes, but here is the caveat – money can buy you happiness only if you know what to buy.
And before we get into all the details, let’s chat about this thought-provoking topic: how much is enough?
How Much Is Enough?
According to scientifically validated research conducted by the Ivy League universities, money can make you happier; however, after your basic needs are met money doesn’t make you that much happier. The magic cut-off number is $75,000 USD to be exact, according to Dr. Daniel Kahneman, a Professor of Psychology at Princeton University who won a Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences.
His study determined that “more money doesn’t necessarily buy you more happiness, but less money is associated with worry and emotional pain”. Basically, financial independence improves your life satisfaction, but if you’re struggling to take care of your basic needs, money elevates your stress and anxiety.
I would argue that our happiness has more to do with our relationship with money than a calculated number. We all a money story – the unconscious tale that we tell ourselves about what money means to us and what money says about us to others. It defines how much we think we are worth, how much we are capable of earning, and how much we deserve. It’s about what would happen if we had more money and what would happen if we had less.
I remember – years ago – walking on a picture-perfect beach in Florida and having a major anxiety about money, yet again. The fact that our net worth was 7-figures didn’t seem to make any difference whatsoever. It took me a while to change my money story and turn my relationship with money around.
Also, you might say, “You know Olga, everybody has a different idea of basic needs; for some people $75,000 might mean financial freedom, but for some it’s just a drop in the bucket.” I hear you, and while I’m not completely sold on the number, the main point is this: when your basic needs are met, more money doesn’t make you that much happier, but how you spend you money does.
Spend Money On Experiences Rather Than Stuff
It turns out that we generally get more happiness when we spend money on experiences than on stuff. That’s because our brain is extremely adaptive. When we buy things that we think would make us happy, we might feel that happiness buzz, but then we get used to them. Apparently, adaptation is one of the biggest enemies of happiness.
And even though we naturally associate economic value with material stuff, rather than buying a brand-new car or the very latest phone, scientific psychologists recommend spending money on experiences.
“Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods,” says Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a Professor of Psychology at Cornell University who has been studying the connection between happiness and money for over two decades. “You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.”
Also, experiences often make us happier even before they happen – think about waiting for an exciting date or going on vacation. And even if our experiences disappoint us, they either turn into funny stories or are forgotten. “Because experiences disappear, they let us make up a reality that was amazing and wonderful,” says Dr. Michael Norton, a Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, “and they make us happier.”
Here is the thing: at the end of your life, will you be thinking about your luxury car or that magical vacation with your lover in northern Italy? Will you be thinking about your nice watch or that epic party with your friends in Vegas? You get the idea.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with having a luxurious lifestyle, taking advantage of technology and looking sharp and sexy; I’m all for it. It’s just way too often many of us fall into the trap of thinking that material stuff will make us happy. The truth is that the latest gadget or one hundred and first designer item in your closet won’t fill that void deep inside while great experiences with family and friends will.
Spend Money On The People You Love
One of the big reasons why spending money on experiences makes us happier is because we share them with other people. Any social outing, from inexpensive dinners with friends to lavish family vacations, allows us to bond with others and create fun new memories.
And here is something really, really important. Our fundamental human needs are to love, to be loved and to belong. Love and acceptance of those we love create a safe psychological space where our happiness and self-expression flourish. As Jonathan Haidt put it, “We need others to complete us.”
Thanks to some recent help from the science department, we now know why it is so important to fulfill these needs. Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, one of my favorite neuroscientists and a leading scholar in her field, has devoted her entire career to the scientific study of emotions from the body and brain perspective. According to her groundbreaking research, for the first time science confirms that love and its deficiency fundamentally alter our body’s biochemistry, which in turn alters how our DNA gets expressed within our cells.
The love that we do or do not receive today literally changes the key aspects of our cells tomorrow – cells that affect our physical and emotional health, vitality and overall well-being.
The more love we experience, the more we open up and grow, and become happier, healthier, wiser, more resilient and more effective.
Spending money on experiences that allow us to have more quality time with the people we love is an awesome way to give and receive more love.
Spend Money On Strangers
Remember how you felt when you helped someone in need? Did you like that warm and fuzzy feeling of sincere giving?
We know that charitable giving is beneficial to us economically (through tax breaks) and socially (by indicating our wealth or status); however, one of the most overlooked benefits of charitable giving is that giving makes us happy.
Multiple studies show that spending money on others is directly associated with greater happiness. It turns out that sincere giving stimulates the brain’s pleasure and reward centers and makes givers feel good about their actions. Scientists believe that altruistic behaviour releases endorphins in the brain, producing a feeling known as the helper’s high. On top of that, sincere giving promotes a sense of trust, cooperation and social connection; it evokes a sense of gratitude and is good for our overall health.
Giving brings happiness and happiness brings giving in a circular cause-effect relationship.
The cool part is that it’s not how much, but how we spend our money on others that influences our happiness level. By the way, donating your time counts as well. So whether you buy thoughtful gifts, volunteer your time or donate money to charity, don’t be surprised if you experience a burst of happiness in the process.
There are endless ways to experience the joy of giving, but here is the catch: expect nothing in return. Extensive scientific research shows that as soon as we start giving for selfish reasons, we immediately lose all psychological benefits of giving, meaning that we actually rob ourselves of our happiness. Interesting, huh?
Spend Money To Buy Time
The best things in life may be free, but if you don’t have the time to enjoy them, what’s the point?
Happy, successful people know that time is one of the most precious things money can buy, and they hire other people to do what’s not worth spending their time on.
Unfortunately, many of us were raised with the unconscious belief that, to save money, we have to do everything ourselves. Most of us were never taught that by outsourcing and delegating the things we don’t like doing, we create space for more enjoyable, fulfilling work that can pay not only for the services we hire but also many extras. And that’s aside from the (scientifically proven) fact that doing the work we love noticeably increases our sense of happiness as an added benefit.
Life is way too short to only do the things we have to do; it is barely long enough to the things we want to do.
Sidney J. Harris put it this way, “Time is love, above all else. It’s the most precious commodity in the world, and should be lavished on those we care most about.”
Spend Money To Buy Quality
And by quality I mean quality of life.
I’m not only talking about buying a luxury car to make your drive to work more comfortable; I’m talking about buying a house close to your place of business, so that you can spend more quality time at home with those you love.
I’m talking about taking mini-retirements to recharge your body, mind and soul and reignite your creativity rather than keep running in the endless rat race.
I’m talking about moving to a city (state, country) where you want to live and making it work instead of waiting for “someday” that never comes.
I’m talking about hiring an experienced life coach to clear out your mental and emotional clutter, free yourself from other people’s dramas and agendas, and live your life by design, not by default.
I’m talking about your choices, big and small, that determine the quality of your every day life: how content and inspired you are, how much you enjoy your precious time on this planet, how loving and fulfilling your most important relationships are, how nutritious your diet is, how much sleep you get on any given day, how much excitement is happening in the bedroom…
By the way, research shows that the quality of your marriage directly affects your effectiveness and leadership skills, so whatever you can do to make it better and, consequently, improve the quality of your life does count.
And yes, I get it – sometimes we find ourselves in challenging life circumstances, with fewer resources, and we might not be in the position to make bold moves. However, even small steps can take you amazing places if you are consistently moving in the right direction. The word that’s worth repeating here is consistently.
At the end of the day, money can buy happiness, and it’s not so much about how much money you have, but what you choose to do with it. When you spend money on things that are meaningful, fulfilling, engaging or fun, whether it’s surprising your loved ones, crossing things off your bucket list or selflessly helping others, you can’t help it but experience a big dose of happiness in the process.
It hit me hard that life it too short to be unhappy and unfulfilled when – a few years ago – I had emergency open heart surgery. I realized that I would have a lot of regrets if I died in surgery.
Over four decades of studies revealed what even the most successful people regret on their deathbed. Guess what the top regrets of the dying are?
- They regret the things they never did and grieve over their dreams that have gone unfulfilled
- They wish they had not worked so hard
- They regret making money at the expense of relationships
- They wish they had taken the time to love more and to express their love
- They regret not staying in touch with friends and not giving the friendships the time and effort they deserved
- And the biggest one of all: they wish they had let themselves be happier and they regret postponing their happiness to “someday”.
This is the last thing I want for you. You are wise to learn from other people’s mistakes. You are fully funded by the Universe, and you have everything you need to live a regret-free life, starting right about now. You are smart, talented and resourceful, and there is so much out there for you. Go get it, tiger!
P. S. Would you like to uncover the hidden subconscious patterns that sabotage your happiness and success, so that you can double your income and free time, have a whole lot more love and happiness in your life, and make the difference you are meant to make? Click here to apply for a Complimentary 90-Minute Private and Confidential Discovery Session. 90 minutes with me can change your life.