This is How You Can Buy Happiness
You might think you'll be happier with a bigger house, a fancier car, or a newer version of whatever your neighbors have. But it isn't true. Plenty of research shows that once you have enough to meet your basic needs, having more makes only a slight difference to your level of happiness.
However, happiness is readily available if you spend your money mindfully, thoughtfully, and in keeping with your true values.
1. Buy experiences that will enrich your life.
A new bauble may provide a few minutes of happiness, but we adapt quickly and something else catches our eye. Travel, concerts, live sporting events, trips to visit loved ones – all of these are experiences to engage in, savor, share with others, and remember with joy. And experiences help us define who we are. Would you rather be a person who does things or a person who owns stuff?
2. Buy items that make life better.
I'm not talking about trinkets or gadgets. I don't mean something you got for a low, low price, or an item you added to an online basket because you got fast, free shipping. Forget an upgrade for something you already own, just so you have the latest and greatest.
- Fresh organic food from a local farmers' market or an independent quality food store
- Clothes that fit and flatter, made by a company with some ethics about its workers and the planet
- A well-made tool you need in order to create a useful or beautiful item that will last
- A class or a book that helps you learn something new
3. Buy something special.
... abundance, it turns out, is the enemy of appreciation. This is the sad reality of the human experience: in general, the more we're exposed to something, the more its impact diminishes.
So keep purchases special by keeping them rare. Don't go out to dinner every night, don't plan for trips or experiences every weekend, don't buy a whole new outfit every month. By saving up and treating yourself occasionally, you'll appreciate it more.
4. Buy time.
Time is our most precious resource because it is limited and non-renewable. Rather than working more hours so you can have more money to spend, try to spend your money so that you save time.
This goes beyond convenience foods and smart appliances. Think about ways to save significant amounts of time that you can use in ways that benefit you. Create more time to spend with loved ones, to pursue a hobby or a passion, to be in nature, or even to sleep.
- Moving closer to work in order to shorten commute time
- Buying a smaller home to reduce housework
- Creating a low-maintenance yard
- Buying high quality items that last longer and need to be replaced less often
5. Buy for later consumption.
When you pay for a massage or tickets to a play a few weeks before you intend to go, or purchase a vacation you'll be taking in a couple of months, you're paying now and consuming later. This has two positive effects.
- When you buy something now and pay for it later, you create debt, which hijacks future resources to pay for something that's already history. But when you pay now for what you'll enjoy later, you allow yourself to participate in the activity without focusing on the cost. In fact, by the time you get to it, it feels like it's free.
- Dunn and Norton write that "consuming later provides time for positive expectations to develop." In other words, by paying now you get to look forward to an experience. Research shows that anticipation is a huge and often overlooked source of happiness.
6. Buy for others what they can't buy for themselves.
Generosity lowers your stress levels, eases symptoms of depression, and triggers the release of brain chemicals that bring feelings of joy and peace. For a real boost, don't just give to friends and family who (generally speaking) already have everything they need. Give regularly to organizations that directly benefit those who aren't so blessed.
Simply having a lot of money won't automatically increase your sense of well-being, but it is possible to spend well. Don't just buy stuff – buy happiness.
* This blog is reader-supported. If you buy through my links, I may earn a small commission.
Updated June 2023