5 ways money can buy happiness, backed by science

5 ways money can buy happiness, backed by science
Photo by MI PHAM / Unsplash

It turns out that one of the most popular cliches—that money can't buy happiness—may not be true. There is a relationship between money and human brain; this relationship, if not handled correctly, can cause negative effects. There are some ways though to buy happiness that have been proved by science:

Don’t buy thing, buy moments

According to Dan Gilbert, Harvard University psychology professor and author of Stumbling on Happiness, the key is to spend your money on experiences rather than material things. Material things, even if they’re expensive or you wanted them badly, tend to lose their luster after a while, literally and figuratively. Memories of people, places and activities, however, never get old. In a survey, Gilbert found that 57% of respondents reported greater happiness from an experiential purchase. Only 34% said the same about a material purchase. Similar opinion comes from

psychology Professor Thomas Gilovich (Cornell University) and associate professor Prof. Howell (San Francisco State University): people think material purchases offer better value for the money because experiences are fleeting, and material goods last longer. So, although they’ll occasionally splurge on a big vacation or concert tickets, when they’re in more money-conscious mode, they stick to material goods. In fact, when people looked back at their purchases, they realized that experiences actually provided better value. If you’ve climbed in the Himalayas, that’s something you’ll always remember and talk about, long after all your favorite gadgets have gone to the landfill.

Give to others

The paradox of money is that although earning more of it tends to enhance our well-being, we become happier by giving it away rather than by spending it on ourselves. In a study published in 2014, Harvard University researchers conducted experiments and found out that spending money on others (called “prosocial” spending in academic jargon) boosts people’s emotional and physical well-being.“The benefits of prosocial spending… extend not only to subjective well-being but objective health,” they write.

Buy small, not big

When it’s time to spend, better buy many small things rather than one big. This is because dropping a ton of cash on something extravagant doesn’t give you the same bang for your buck because, no matter how special it is at first, you get used to having it over time and it becomes just another object. “Giving yourself inexpensive indulgences is a clever way to gather up lots of bursts of happiness,” a recent Business Insider article suggests, citing Gilbert’s research. If you have small kids I'm sure you noticed that even if you buy them a super expensive toy, after a couple days their enthusiasm for it vanishes. It's more effective to buy smaller/less expensive toys more often than a big one once a year.

Spend with others

You might think spending money on things or activities you do by yourself will make you happy, but a study from 2014 in Psychological Science says that tactic can backfire. “To be extraordinary is to be different than other people, and social interaction is grounded in similarities,” says Gus Cooney , Harvard University research assistant and lead author of the study. Doing things with friends or family, even if it’s not as exciting, makes you happy because it fosters a sense of togetherness and connection between you and other people.

Don’t adapt to what you buy

This is a hard one. One of the main reasons why having more stuff doesn’t always make us happy is that we adapt to it. “Human beings are remarkably good at getting used to changes in their lives, especially positive changes,” says Sonja Lyubomirsky, psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside. “If you have a rise in income, it gives you a boost, but then your aspirations rise too. Maybe you buy a bigger home in a new neighborhood, and so your neighbors are richer, and you start wanting even more. You’ve stepped on the hedonic treadmill. Trying to prevent that or slow it down is really a challenge.”

A simple approach that works is keeping a journal where, every morning, you write three things you are grateful for. The process of adaptation, after all, comes from taking what you have for granted, so you can slow it down by reminding yourself of why you value what you have. If you keep a painting hanging in the same spot on the same wall, for example, you’ll stop noticing it after a while. But swap it with a painting from another room, and you’ll see each of them with fresh eyes, and appreciate them more.