The Secret Of Happiness


The old saying that “money can’t buy you happiness” is only true if you aren’t spending it right, according to research by “happiness expert” and Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert.

There may be arguments about where  the threshold  is on how much money is required to make you happy  – some say $US50,000 a year, others say $US75,000. (After that it’s said the correlation between money and happiness slopes away)

There’s no doubt though, that money provides “an “opportunity for happiness” because those with it live longer and healthier lives, more leisure time and control over their daily choices.

Why Doesn’t Money Buy MORE Happiness?

What puzzles Daniel Gilbert and his colleagues Elizabeth Dunn of the University of British Columbia and Timothy Wilson of the University of Virginia is that money doesn’t buy more happiness.

“[Money] is an opportunity that people routinely squander because the things they think will make them happy often don’t,” the authors say in a paper aptly titled “If money doesn’t make you happy then you probably aren’t spending it right.”

With that tension in mind, Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness and his colleagues suggest the following rules for using money in ways that will make you happy.

1. Buy experiences not things.


In a survey of over 1,000 Americans, 57% of respondents said that they derived greater happiness from an experience, like a trip, concert, or other life event, over a material purchase, like a car, appliance, or other object.

The hardwood floor in the apartment soon gets worn and taken for granted. By contrast, the “memory of seeing a baby cheetah at dawn on an African safari continues to provide delight.”

2. Spend money to help others instead of yourself.


Human beings are the most social animals on earth, and the quality of our social relationships is a strong determinant of how happy we are.

(Scientists believe the drive to build complex social networks is what made our brains triple in size two million years ago.)

Several studies reported in the “Happiness Project” showed we are happier spending money on others than on ourselves. That’s backed up by evidence from brain scans showing that spending money on other people activates the reward centres of your brain.

Interestingly many of us remain blind to this aspect of our wiring and believe we will be happier spending it on ourselves.

3. Buy many small pleasures instead of few big ones.

buy small

Says Gilbert’s report: “We are happier when we have a variety of frequent, small pleasures—double lattes, uptown pedicures, and high thread count socks— rather than pouring money into large purchases, such as sports cars, dream vacations, and front-row concert tickets.”

One reason suggested is we adapt to the infrequent large pleasures quicker than the frequent small ones – and once we’ve adapted it becomes routine and so gives us less pleasure.

Having a beer after work on a Friday is always a different experience; someone brings a new friend or you order a different type of beer. Says Gilbert and colleagues: “Because the small frequent pleasures are different each time they occur, they forestall adaptation.”

4. Buy less insurance.

The evidence of how people adapt to tragedies shows we are not the emotionally fragile creatures we may think we are and we over estimate our vulnerability to negative events.

“People seek extended warranties and generous return policies in order to preclude the possibility of future regret,” the authors say, “but research suggests that the warranties may be unnecessary for happiness and the return policies may actually undermine it.”

If we are committed to something and know there is no “get our money back” or exchange option on it we are more likely to convince ourselves we really like it and be satisfied with it.

5. Pay now, consume later.


The switch in our credit card society to “buy now pay later” has been detrimental to our happiness in two important ways, Gilbert and friends say.

Firstly it encourages reckless spending which ends up messily – in heavy debt, bankruptcy, with no money for retirement – you name it. There are tons of studies to show those who cannot delay gratification end up worse off than those who can.

But secondly, part of the pleasure of happiness is anticipation.

Research shows that people can reap substantial enjoyment from anticipating an upcoming event even if the event itself is not entirely enjoyable.

Examining three different vacations ranging from a trip to Europe to a bicycle trip through California researchers found that people viewed the vacation in a more positive light before the experience than during the experience, suggesting that anticipation may sometimes provide more pleasure than consumption simply because it is unsullied by reality.

Not surprisingly, then, people who devote time to anticipating enjoyable experiences report being happier in general.

6. Think about what it’s really like to own the thing you want to buy.


When we’re imagining how awesome it would be to own something, we tend to forget the details.

And happiness, the authors say, is in the details. Many Canadians picture the bliss of a peaceful lake-edge cottage but do not factor in the mosquitos that buzz at night and the long drive to get there with tired children.

Before you make a big purchase, consider all the headaches that might come with owning that new thing.

7. Stop the comparison shopping.


While comparison shopping may seem logical, it actually decreases our enjoyment of purchases.

That’s because we allow ourselves to be persuaded to buy something that others suggest is the “best deal” but which may not tick all the boxes in terms of our own enjoyment or happiness. In other words we focus on aspects of the purchase other than personal preference and give them priority.

One riveting study demonstrated this peculiar human quality.  Given the choice of a large $2 cockroach shaped chocolate or a smaller 50 cent heart shaped one only 46 per cent said they would enjoy the cockroach chocolate more, 68 per cent would still choose the cockroach one because it seemed to represent more value.

8. Follow the herd not your head.

follow herd

“Research suggests that the best way to predict how much we will enjoy an experience is to see how much someone else enjoyed it,” the authors say.

If you want to know what movie to watch, you are more likely to find one that suits you by checking out how others of a similar age or experience rated it – for example, a 32 year old woman could find out how women ages 30–44 liked the movie by checking the ratings on the Internet Movie Database ( than carefully considering whether the plot line, characters and genre appeals to your sensibility.

“Other people can supply us with a valuable source of data not only by telling us what has made them happy,” the authors say, “but also by providing information about what they think will make us happy.”

Or as the 17th century writer François de La Rochefoucauld wrote: “Before we set our hearts too much upon anything, let us first examine how happy those are who already possess it.”


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