A few months ago I used this column to discuss the concept of career happiness by analyzing the various shades of green the grass blades had on each side of the fence.
It must have been a pretty good dissertation, because I received a nice email telling me how much the reader enjoyed the column. Heck, with feedback like that, I figured I could not go wrong if I touched on the topic of “happiness” again this month.
Thanks for writing, Mom. You’ve always been my biggest fan.
Seriously, I had no intent on reaching back into the crevices of my brain to recall all I learned about being happy in Psychology 101. There wasn’t enough left to fill the page. However, a few weeks ago I received a newsletter from a financial planner that examined the psychology of spending habits. The title of the newsletter was “Happy Money,” and it was based on research published a few years ago.
In 2013, Elizabeth Dunn, armed with a Ph.D. in psychology, and Michael Norton, a marketing professor, released the book entitled “Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending.” It shares the theory that happiness is not necessarily a function of how much money one makes, but rather how one spends it. They distilled their findings on five basic laws, some of which seemed counterintuitive and had me scratching my head until I gave it more thought.
Those principles follow below. I encourage you to engage in a little mental gymnastics to see how your viewpoints may differ.
1. Invest in others: We’ve heard it over and over – people get more satisfaction when they give than when they receive. While donations to charities or nonprofits are certainly worthy, there are everyday activities whereby a small investment can result in feel-good moments that last. Have you ever stopped by the lemonade stand and left a $5 bill for a 50-cent, plastic cup of lemonade? Have you ever been at a drive through and left an extra $10 for the people behind you? That small outlay will provide considerably more satisfaction than an extra cup of double creme latte.
2. Buy experiences: I must admit this one was a head scratcher until I gave it more thought. Have you ever purchased the newest gadget or luxury item that initially captured your interest for almost every waking hour until slowly the novelty wore off and it became rarely used? Conversely, do you remember that family vacation to the mountains 10 years ago? The memories are still vivid despite the lapse in time. Consider investing in experiences that providing a lifetime of lasting memories and happiness.
3. Make it a treat: In their book, Dunn and Norton write, “Abundance is the enemy of appreciation.” Sure, Starbucks might make a good coffee. But having it every day not only is a considerable expense, but the routine over time masks the treat. Consider purchases of items you like, but indulge only periodically so you experience the treat rather than the routine.
4. Buy time: Let’s face it, it seems like there are never enough hours in the day. So how do we make time for other activities? Simple – buy it. Look for opportunities to spend money on products or services that allow you to do the things you want to do. For 10 years while living in my first home, I fought the hot Kansas sun by moving around hoses and sprinklers. Not only was I tethered to my home and forced to make frequent trips outside, I also faced the stress of having to make sure grass seed would stay moist and grow in. That meant rising early in the morning and staying up late at night for the sprinkler moving ritual. A sprinkler system might have been one of my best purchases ever.
5. Pay now, consume later: The beauty of credit cards is we can achieve instant gratification without spending any money at the outset. That’s the problem. As credit card balances grow, stress builds and the happiness we once had wanes. Conversely, saving for a purchase allows one to enjoy the anticipation and, ultimately, the purchase without the concern of having to pay for it in the future.
Can money buy happiness? Rarely. But, with a little discipline and thought, you can leverage the enjoyment you get from your purchases.
COVER PHOTO COURTESY OF CRACKERCLIPS/ESSENTIALS/ISTOCK