How to buy happiness
Legal Disclosure: Tony Robbins is a board member and Chief of Investor Psychology at Creative Planning, Inc., an SEC Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) with wealth managers serving all 50 states. Mr. Robbins receives compensation for serving in this capacity and based on increased business derived by Creative Planning from his services.
“It’s the hap, happiest season of all,” the crooners sing. But is it? As much as we try to make loved ones our focus at the end of the year, the subject of money always seems to be lingering in the background. Whether you’re keeping a running mental tab on what you’ve spent on the holiday festivities, you’re waiting to hear if you got that raise or bonus, or you’re determining your end of the year giving, chances are you’ve got your mind on your money and your money on your mind (as Snoop Dog would say).
Is your money really serving you? Does it make you happier? Are you using it to lead a more fulfilled life? If you answered no to any of these questions, take heart, there is hope. Because the science says money does bring you happiness – if you use it right.
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Hit your target
Happiness is correlated to income, but only up to $75,000, according to a highly publicized 2010 Princeton study. So what does this mean? According to the research, people reported having a greater “emotional well-being” based upon income up to $75,000, after which the level of happiness evened out.
Essentially, this study quantified what we instinctively had guessed – that money alleviates the stress of providing our most basic needs. In other words, $75,000 of annual income buys peace of mind. Meanwhile, low income intensifies the emotional strain of the trials of life like medical emergencies and divorce, causing compounded pain from financial insecurity.
In fact, one study concluded that income could actually reduce the incidence of serious mental illness. “We know from the results that changes in family income are important drivers of people’s emotional lives,” said David Clingingsmith, author of the paper and associate professor of economics at Case Western University.
What does this mean for you? Well, if you’ve already hit that $75,000 threshold and you’re not happy, it means you just need to learn how to spend effectively. Keep reading! If you haven’t hit that target yet, first things first: you need to get to know your numbers. Implement a spending plan and take massive action to get your financial security in place. Just having an emergency fund that covers your basic needs for three to six months will alleviate the little voice of panic inside you (or your partner) that constantly questions what will happen if a crisis occurs.
However, the science says that no matter where you are at in your financial journey, spending your money in these ways will bring you more satisfaction in life.
3 ways to spend money that will actually make you happier
Spend it on others – and witness the impact
As it turns out, science has upheld the maxim, “it’s better to give.” A Harvard study conducted across over 100 countries found that whether rich or poor, people who give to charity are happier. Perceived happiness increases even more when we can see the impact our gift has on someone.
Remember that moment when you gave someone a gift that you just…could…not…wait for them to open? As they opened your present, you searched their face for the delight that you knew that you put there by giving them a gift you knew they would love. Giving a gift that changes someone’s life or just makes them feel known and loved meets our deep need for love and connection, improving the quality of our own lives whilst improving another’s.
Spend it on experiences
Make memories, not purchases. Spending money on experiences makes us happier than spending money on material things for a few reasons.
For one, spending our money on experiences creates a connection with the people we shared that experience with – and those memories form a bigger part of our sense of identity than the things we buy. In fact, we remember experiences as better than they actually were. Alternatively, we adapt to the material purchases quickly.
Already convinced, but need ideas? Here is a list of 7 “experience gifts” we put together for the holiday season.
A paper from Cornell University psychology professor Thomas Gilovich showed that we also get more pleasure out of anticipating experiences than anticipating the acquisition of material things. There is a reason that those brilliant credit card commercials tell a story of purchases made to create a ‘priceless’ memory. It is the experiences that stir up your emotions; it is the experiences that they are selling.
Consider this: The two days your spend waiting for your Amazon Prime package to arrive doesn’t build the same kind of anticipation as planning and dreaming about that vacation to Belize does. You take the time off work, brush up on your Spanish, read travel blogs and more, all the while thinking about how epic this trip is going to be. And once it’s over, you’ll tell the story of zip-lining through the rainforest to anyone who will listen for the rest of your life.
Best of all, we don’t compare experiences quite the same way we compare our material possessions to other people’s. Teddy Roosevelt may have said it best when he postulated, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” But thankfully, keeping up with the Jones’ doesn’t translate to experiences the same way it does to things. Sure, the Instagram pics of your college roommate’s family trip to Hawaii may give you travel envy, but it doesn’t diminish the joy you experienced camping in Yosemite with your spouse.
Although it may be easier to prioritize buying material goods, thinking they’ll offer better value for money in the long run, psychologists tell us that the opposite is true.
Buy back your time
Studies also show that we are happier if we buy back our time. Wait, isn’t time the one thing money can’t buy us? As it turns out, no. Time is one of the most important things money can buy, precisely because it is such a valuable resource.
As the author of Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending, Professor Elizabeth Dunn, suggests: “Don’t buy a slightly fancier car so that you have heated seats during your two-hour commute. Buy a place close to work, so that you can use that final hour of daylight to kick a ball around in the park with your kids.” A University of Zurich study agreed, citing that you would need a 40% raise to offset the added misery of a one-hour commute.
But it’s not just time sitting in traffic you can buy back. What would you be willing to give up to gain back the time you spend cleaning your house? Pack your lunch a couple of days a week and you may find that house cleaner is suddenly within budget, freeing up those precious hours.
This is especially difficult for those of us from hard-working families who were brought up to do things ourselves. Sure, we can change our own oil, but is it the best use of our time? Will it bring you joy? If so, have at it. If not, reconsider what your time is worth and spend accordingly.
Tell the right story
Finally, your happiness is ultimately determined by the story you tell yourself. What is the story you consistently tell regarding your finances? Is it empowering you or limiting you? Is your story making you happy? As Tony Robbins says, “Change your story, change your life.”
On your journey to financial freedom, be sure to cultivate gratitude. One of the main reasons that collecting more things doesn’t make us happy in the long run is because we adapt quickly to it. Sonja Lyubomirsky, psychology professor at UC Riverside, says,” If you have a rise in income it gives you a boost, but then your aspirations rise too…You’ve stepped on the hedonic treadmill. Trying to prevent that or slow it down is really a challenge.”
Consciously fostering gratitude is key to maintaining joy.
Wherever you are in your financial journey, may you find joy this holiday season.
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