Quality relationships and meaningful work, not a big bank balance, may be the key to a happy life, but that doesn't mean money and joy are totally unrelated. Purchases, we all know, can sometimes make us very happy, the choices afforded by financial security (or lack thereof) have a huge impact on quality of life, and trying to keep up with the Joneses is generally regarded as a recipe for misery.
So while the Beatles may have been right that when they sang "can't buy me love," you can aim to squeeze the maximum amount of happiness out of whatever financial situation you find yourself in. Psychology can help. Researchers are hard at work figuring out exactly how money and happiness interact. A symposium entitled "Happy Money 2.0: New Insights Into the Relationship Between Money and Well-Being," at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology's recent annual convention, laid out the latest findings.
1. Buy experiences, not stuff.
Remember how excited you were to get that bigger TV or fancy new car? Chances are, probably not. When we purchase new stuff--no matter how much we anticipate the buy bringing us joy--our upgraded circumstances soon become just another thing we take for granted and we move on to wanting something else.
The same can't be said when you buy experiences rather than material goods. A vacation, for instance, brings pleasure as you plan and anticipate getting away, enjoyment while you're actually on holiday, and pleasant memories to savor for years afterwards.
"The anticipatory period [for experiential purchases] tends to be more pleasant ... less tinged with impatience relative to future material purchases we're planning on making," researcher Amit Kumar, who studies the phenomenon, explained. "Those waiting for an experience tended to be in a better mood and better behaved than those waiting for a material good."
2. Find more joy through scarcity.
Not having enough of something you need doesn't sound like a pleasant circumstance at all, but counterintuitive findings show that experiencing scarcity either in the past or present helps us savor the good things we do have. Of course, this insight probably won't convince you to artificially make yourself poorer, but according to the convention release there is a simple and practical method to put this idea to work.
"Temporarily giving something up may provide an effective route to happiness, concludes another study published in SPPS. Consistently indulging in pleasure and abundance may not be the most productive route to happiness," it says.
3. Know that there is no magic income level for happiness.
Do you think that once you reach a certain threshold of wealth you'll stop craving more? Forget about it, says science. "According to a study from researchers at Harvard Business School, the University of Mannheim, and Yale University, wealthy individuals report that having three to four times as much money would give them a perfect '10' score on happiness--regardless of how much wealth they already have," reports the release.
Just knowing that fact might help you keep a healthier perspective about gaining--and spending--your money. It suggests that if you're reasonably comfortable you should stop waiting to be richer to be happy and start figuring out how to find joy at your current level of income.