Want to buy happiness? Splurge on these 5 things

Happiness is like a game of pass the parcel — and your spending should be, too. Indeed, research shows that spending money on other friends — be they furry friends or human friends — rather than on yourself will help you find lasting happiness.

1. Happiness is a warm puppy along with even a fluffy cat

A 2011 research at the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that pet owners had higher self-esteem and got more exercise than non-pet owners, also were less inclined to shy away from relationships for fear of being hurt.

At the first part of the study, pet owners had higher self-esteem and more exercise — and also experienced improved conscientiousness and not as fearful attachment, a psychological term that describes the urge to stay away from relationships for fear of being hurt. “The support that pets supplied complemented rather than competed with human resources,” they found. At length, pet owners “demonstrated the ability of pets to stave off negativity brought on by social rejection.”

Happiness is, really, a warm puppy. That may be why some people feed their puppies kale and avocado. And so I’m searching for another dog to adopt. Regrettably, Howell, a stoic Scottish Terrier, went to his forever home — which is, he had been adopted — an hour earlier I called the pound. (Oddly, something kept occurring on OKCupid too.)

2. Even spending $5 on other people improves happiness

The struggling middle course is providing less to charity. While our intuition is to collect money in our savings account to ensure our future happiness, spare time to help others. Spending money on other people works more magic — or “predicts greater enjoyment,” to use the academic term — more than spending it yourself.

Participants who had been randomly assigned to spend money on other people experienced greater joy than those assigned to invest money on themselves, researchers at University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School concluded in a 2008 study published in the academic journal Science. But very minor alterations in spending allocations — as little as $5 — may be sufficient to generate non-trivial gains in happiness on a given afternoon,” it discovered.

There are many ways to do this. Among them: An automatic payment every month for your favorite charity. Charitable giving is tax-deductible but makes you feel fitter and happier too. “An increasing body of literature documents that giving to others reduces stress and strengthens the immune system, which leads to better health and longer life expectancy,” Baris Yörük, an associate professor of economics at the University in Albany-SUNY and writer of another 2013 research in the Journal of Economic Psychology, concluded.

Russ Johnson, a retired manufacturing executive based in Louisville, Ky., takes that message to heart. He does not give to charity, but he is a champion tipper. Following a dialogue with a golfing friend ten years back, he chose to quit donating to charities and begin tipping 50% of this invoice instead. You may also keep your ears and eyes looking for ways to provide each single time you walk outside your house.

3. Invest in memories and experiences over stuff

Another golden rule? Spending on possessions may fill your closet and pantry, but spending on intangibles matches your spirit. A great live performance is the very first thing that I know I spend cash on without regret. It makes me happy.

I still have gratitude (the type they attempt to jimmy from you in Buddhist retreats) that I caught Kathryn Hunter’s frail, broken portrayal of King Lear — 20 years before Glenda Jackson’s current West End performance at the exact same function — at London’s Leicester Haymarket theatre in 1997.

And Liza Minnelli singing “New York, New York” in the Palace in 2008. She was in good fettle. It was worth every penny and I still consider it to this day. (One significant drawback: I had to pursue a lot of turkeys to come across those performances.)

There’s a scientific (and an artistic) explanation for this kind of cultural enrichment that lasts decades, maybe even a life. Ryan Howell (no connection the aforementioned Howell), an associate professor of psychology at San Francisco State University, has spent a large portion of his career studying happiness and buys, also writes a site on the subject of Psychology Today.

His own studies, and many others, have shown that spending money on adventures as opposed to stuff can cause a more lasting happiness. It’s difficult to grow tired of these beautiful memories.

4. If You’re Able to afford it, visit far away places

Pets, individuals, plays and — eventually — spend your money on planes, or rather the areas they could take you. When I am on my deathbed, I won’t ever regret the time I traveled to a distant island paradise and floated in warm sea water like I had been in a film or a dream. I put in a tent in Kruger National Park in South Africa at the dead of night listening to the orchestra of noises out of the wild.

Peering to the remains of this Sarajevo Tunnel which was used to transport food to the occupants throughout the siege during the Bosnian War reminds me to not take a civilized society with no war for granted. Have a look at this man who quit his job and spent a year traveling the world. He made a five-minute video of his trip.

Prolonged happiness may be gleaned from “experiential purchases” or “intangible experiences,” based on some recent book — “Consumption and Well-Being in the Material World” — by Miriam Tatzel, professor in the Empire State College in Nanuet, N.Y. Published in 2014, it examines decades of research on materialism and says bucks spent on intangible experiences such as travel leads to more pleasure than splurging on concrete products like jewelry, clothes, furniture or even the very sought after electronics.

5. Go crazy! Do not hear do-gooders like me

If you actually need a Cinemascope-style LED television display and Louis Vuitton shoes, don’t let me stop you. Certain individuals have more trouble being joyful. An hour a week on a psychologist’s sofa might not hurt in that situation and could fit into Tatzel’s point on adventures.

“Individuals who had higher materialistic values were prone to buy experiential things for extrinsic reasons, like displaying or impressing others,” Howell and his colleagues reasoned from a 2013 laboratory study of 100 people. “This implies that materialistic people might not feel happiness from encounters.”


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