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Buying Happiness

HOW CAN WE STEP off the hedonic treadmill—and squeeze more satisfaction out of our time and money? Here are some insights from the academic literature:

  • Spend time with friends and family. Throw a party. Go out to dinner with friends. Fly across the country to see your children or grandchildren. Join family and friends in volunteering for a local charity. Happiness research suggests a robust network of friends and family can be a huge source of happiness.
  • Devote yourself to work and hobbies that you find challenging, you’re passionate about, you think are important and you feel you’re good at. While achieving our goals often isn’t as satisfying as we imagine, making progress toward these goals can give us great satisfaction. Think about those moments when you’re engaged in activities you love, you’re completely absorbed and time just whizzes by. These moments of what psychologists call “flow” can be among our happiest times.
  • Buy experiences, not possessions. The new car will likely go from a source of happiness to a source of unhappiness as it gets dinged up and breaks down. By contrast, a vacation can provide not just a wonderful week or two with family, but also many months of eager anticipation and many years of fond memories.
  • Move closer to work. Research suggests a long commute can be terrible for happiness. We like to feel in control, and that’s tough to do when we’re dealing every day with traffic or public transportation.
  • Don’t move to a ritzier neighborhood than you can truly afford. Your wealthy neighbors will be a constant reminder that you aren’t so fortunate.
  • Plan far ahead. When we spend money, often the best part is the anticipation, as we imagine how great it’ll be to go on vacation or take delivery of the new car. Make sure you enjoy a long period of anticipation by avoiding impulse purchases—and instead pondering major purchases for at least a few months.
  • Pay before you consume. For instance, if you’re taking a trip, pay for the airfare and hotel rooms ahead of time. That way, you’ll free yourself to enjoy the vacation without worrying about the cost involved.
  • Don’t treat yourself too often. If you have a favorite restaurant, you will probably enjoy each visit more if you go less frequently.
  • Pay others to do chores you dislike, whether it’s mowing the lawn, making dinner or cleaning the house.
  • Give a little. Volunteering doesn’t just help others. It can also make us feel good about ourselves. Ditto for buying gifts.
  • Count your blessings. Okay, maybe the new car doesn’t give you the same thrill it once did. But you might be able to squeeze a little more happiness from the vehicle if you pause for a moment, admire it and think how lucky you are.

Next: Midlife Misery

Previous: Hedonic Treadmill

Article: Spending Happily

Related: Nine Simple Strategies for a Happier Life

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