Happiness is elusive, and many people think that if they had more money, they could obtain it. More and more, however, studies are showing that it is not how much money you have, but how you spend it that determines your level of contentment in life. Read on to find out how your shopping habits may be affecting your mood.
When we obtain a sum of money, our first impulse is usually to buy something. Typically, it is an object that we have been lusting after, such as an iPhone, a car, or a new house. However, psychologists have been studying happiness and its relationship to money, and here is what they have found: if you want to be happy, you should use your cash to purchase experiences instead of things.
When we go to a concert, or out to lunch, or on a vacation, we rarely go alone. The socialization that we experience during these events can lead to deeper relationships, which benefits our mental health. When we feel close to other people, we derive a sense of comfort and security from that. Also, when we go somewhere fun with someone else, we make memories that we can reflect upon during the difficult periods in our lives. A new television may look good, but it will not make you laugh. You cannot call it if you find out that your spouse is cheating on you, or ask it to bring you some chicken noodle soup when you are sick. The problem with new toys is that we adjust to them, and then they are not exciting anymore. For example, we want a bigger television, we save up for it, and we get it. We enjoy it immensely, until next year when a new and improved version comes out. Then we want that. We save up for it, and we get it. We enjoy it for awhile, but eventually it becomes commonplace, too, and then we want something else again. With experiences, we get many more opportunities to enjoy our monetary investment. There is the planning phase, when the anticipation of the event makes us so giddy that we can hardly sleep. There is the experience itself, which is titillating. Then, we can enjoy the experience for the rest of our lives through recall our memories of that time can make us happy again and again, as we watch recordings, look at pictures, or simply replay the experience through the camcorder of our minds.
Think about your most cherished family memory: what most likely comes to mind is a trip to Disney World, time on a fishing boat, or even decorating the Christmas tree while drinking eggnog. What probably does not come to mind is the day that you bought a new couch, or upgraded your computer. While those things may enhance the quality of your life, they do not fulfill you the way that sharing memories with the people you love does. There are a few exceptions; for example, if you buy an RV so you can enjoy camping trips with your family, that purchase may lead to increased happiness. Likewise, if you are buying a set of golf clubs, or a new sewing machine so that you can teach your daughter how to make her own dresses.
Elizabeth Dunn, assistant professor at the University of British Columbia, and a social psychologist, may have said it best when she said this: "Just because money does not buy happiness, does not mean money cannot buy happiness. People just might be using it wrong." So next time you get a bonus at work, before you spend it, consider this: a new plasma television may cost $1000, but snorkeling with the love of your life in a coral reef is priceless. Use your money to buy memories instead of stuff, and the rewards will last a lifetime.