An outing last week reminded me of how to best use money to buy happiness. It’s something all of us want, but we often have trouble figuring out how to achieve it. The event that reminded me was taking my eleven year old daughter and some of her friends to see the movie Insurgent in a 3-D IMAX theater on opening day.
For the weeks leading up to the show, she read up on all the actors, reread the book on which the movie is based, and talked about it with all her friends. All their enthusiasm even had me looking forward to seeing the teen flick. It was a simple outing but it ended up bringing me, my daughter, and her friends much joy.
As I was reflecting on the evening, I realized it followed many of the principals described in a book I read a few months ago called Happy Money. The book reviews current research on how to best use money to buy happiness. Here are some of the principals they suggest to follow:
Buy Experiences, Not Things
Buying new things or even thinking about buying new things seems to weigh people down. There may even be regrets after the purchase that you didn’t get the right model or the best deal.
With experiences, there doesn’t seem to be much regret. Even if the event didn’t go as planned, people still seem to appreciate the experience and downplay the negatives. It’s still a great story to share with others or something you can look back on ten years from now with a chuckle.
Experiences can be exciting trips, or something easy like signing up for a new class or going to a hip restaurant for dinner. The happiness factor is boosted even more if you connect with other people and make it social.
Make It A Treat
I rarely take off the afternoon to go and see a movie, and the last time I saw one in a 3-D IMAX was Avatar in 2009. This event was definitely a treat – both for the kids and for me.
The evening was so much fun that the next day I was ready to take the family to another movie that night. But one of the ways to make simple things more fun is to do them less often.
Going out to dinner less often, buying a speciality coffee drink only on Fridays, or buying new books, shoes, music (put in your own favorite thing) with less frequency boosts the happiness you get from the purchase.
Pay for Things Before You Do Them
I often forget this rule, but when it happens, it really does seem to work. Paying first separates the cost from the fun so you can enjoy the fun even more. Looking forward to the event also adds to the fun.
A week before our movie outing, my daughter insisted we buy the tickets beforehand in case the movie sold out. So we got a headcount and bought the tickets early online.
The day of the movie, I showed my confirmation number at the ticket counter and picked up 5 ticket that practically felt free. It was not an expensive outing, but buying the tickets a week earlier did add a certain lightness to the event.
Spend on Others
Donating to a charity or buying a gift also brings a boost of happiness. One interesting point from the research shows that it doesn’t seem to matter how big the gift is or how important it is. Buying a cup coffee for your friend makes you feel just as happy as donating money to a charity. (Check out the talk by Michael Norton – How to buy happiness.)
Once again, the happiness factor increases if you also make a social connection when you spend on others. Look for ways to treat your friends or make a connection with your favorite charity. It makes giving all the more sweeter.
So the next time you’re ready to buy a shiny new thing, stop and ask what’s your motivation. If it’s for happiness, you may be purchasing the wrong thing. Look instead to buying experiences, connecting with other people, or giving to a friend or charity. These things are more likely bring a smile to your face.