We're taught, as young children and tadpoles, to spend our money wisely. That, we think, refers to getting the best value for the dollars we spend. Comparison shopping is one way that we can accomplish that. Our cell phones and tablets are filled with apps that notify us as soon as the best deals, on everything from food and fuel to automobiles and sporting goods, become available. We all love saving money on our purchases and, for many of us, it's a necessity if we want to make ends meet. But what about those lucky enough to have disposable income? Those folks might define spending wisely as buying those things which will increase their happiness. That's a whole new way of looking at spending!
More than a decade of research has shown that what we buy can make us happy...or leave us feeling disappointed. The key is to spend money on those things that bring us closer to other people...or, in my case, other frogs! Look at these six "happy speding" categories and you'll see what I mean.
1. Spend money on experiences. This can mean seeing a Broadway play, attending a concert, traveling...even spending money on having coffee with a friend. Research shows that spending on these types of purchases will increase our sense of well-being far more than if we spend our money on new possessions.
2. Spend money on experiences you share with others. Social experiences, rather than solo ones, will increase our sense of satisfaction. Having dinner out with friends, or spending money on a "girl's or boy's weekend" are great examples. Even if you can't immediately share the experience with someone close to you, having a great story to tell afterwards goes along way in making the purchase rewarding. Studies show that the more we can talk about our experience the happier it makes us. And you aren't going to get that from chatting about your new pair of shoes over dinner! Making memories make us happy.
3. Spend money on other people. If you want to bond with others, you can buy an experience to share with them or, you can spend money on them directly. In 2008, a study was conducted where participants were given $200 to either spend on themselves or to spend on others that same day. At 5 p.m. they were asked to report back on how they felt regarding their experience. Those who chose to spend the money on others reported being significantly happier than those who spent it on themselves. The same holds true for employees who spend at least some of their bonus money on helping others. Research shows that this effect doesn't just apply to the rich. But that doesn't mean that ALL generous spending results in happiness. We're learning that prosocial spending gives us the most happiness, or bang for our buck. When we treat others and we are there to participate as well, such as inviting someone to lunch and picking up the tab, we gain more happiness than if we give someone a gift certificate to take themselves to lunch. As social creatures, both humans and frogs, enjoy being a direct part of the giving experience.
4. Spend money on the right people. When we spend money on those close to us, we are happier than we spend money on someone who's simply an aquaintance, recent research has shown. Interestingly enough, "early humans who enjoyed helping out other family members were more likely to see their DNA survive," say Lara Aknin, an assistant professor at Simon Fraser University. So how does this impact charitable giving? Good question. It seems that those who can see the impact of their donation are happier than those who can't. Giving locally is one way to see your donations at work.
5. Express your identity through spending. Happiness resulting from experiential spending, is greater in women than in men. It is also higher among young people, the better educated, and the city dweller. Spending habits, and happiness, can be influenced by personality types. Obviously, those with less empathy derive less happiness from prosocial spending than they do with selfish spending. Too, it was shown, that introverts gained more happiness from spending money in a small quiet places, like the local bookstore, while extroverts gained happiness in spending their money in noisier, more crowded establishments...like a bar. And, I would hazzard a guess, that spending money on those charities that we're personally drawn to, will give us more satisfaction that giving money to cause that's further down our "preferred list." It's all about spending on our personal choices. And, lastly:
6. Spend less time thinking about spending. Several studies have shown that adults are happier around the Christmas holidays when they concentrate on their family and their religion, rather than concentrating on giving and receiving. A new study out just this year showed that people who value time over money tended to be happier, over all, with the status of their lives. They had more positive emotions and fewer negative ones. (Good to remember as we are nearing the approach the 2016 holiday season.)
It's probably a misconceived idea to pin happiness on purchasing. What we've learned, however, is that ignoring the role buying plays on happiness will, in itself, make us happier. if you concentrate on buying that next big purchase, you aren't as likely to be as happy as the person who is, say, anticipating spending time over the weekend with his/her family. 'Money enables us to lead a life we want,' says coauthor Sandra Matz, a PhD student at the University of Cambridge. As she and her coauthors write, 'Finding the right products to maintain and enhance one’s preferred lifestyle could turn out to be as important to well-being as finding the right job, the right neighborhood, or even the right friends and partners.'
Money isn't inherently evil, although it can sure seem that way sometimes. It is strictly something we use to exchange for goods and services. In and of itself, money has no value; the value comes in what we can do with it. I still believe that money can't buy real happiness, but it's nice to know that we can actually become even happier by spending money on making great memories with those we love. Might this be something to keep in mind when you begin your holiday shopping?