Buying Happiness Around the World

Can Money Buy Happiness?

Cultivating happiness with money.

Can money buy happiness? I posed this question to a few groups of people while on vacation in Greece – the land of the Gods. I often heard, growing up, that money cannot buy happiness. But, research has shown that money can buy happiness – if you spend it right!  In my travels, I am fascinated by the depth of exchanges I am privileged to share. With people from all walks of life from different parts of the world. I am intrigued by our differences while also celebrating our similarities. As I continue my exploration of how people cultivate happiness.   

How can we use our money to buy happiness?

Spend it on experiences

In his studies on the relationship between money and happiness, Professor of Psychology at Cornell, Thomas Gilovich, found that happiness increases if you spend money on experiences instead of material goods. This is interesting, considering that things we buy, like that new car, last longer than the week-long holiday in the Bahamas.  But interestingly enough, retrospective enjoyment and satisfaction – the memories, of the experiences we have that linger with us more than the satisfaction we would get from the purchases we’ve made. The feeling of happiness in anticipation of upcoming experiences also tends to be higher than the anticipation of purchasing material goods!  So, Instead of the second car, the bigger house, or the tenth pair of shoes, you may want to consider making plans for that trip to Bali or that writing retreat in Paris. 

Spend it on others

That idea that it is better to give than to receive appears to be supported by behavioral science. Happiness increases if you spend money on others instead of yourself.  This finding was supported by a study done by professor Michael Norton and colleagues of the Harvard Business School in 2008. Giving money to someone else lifted participants’ happiness more that spending it on themselves.

Use Your Money to Buy Time

Trading money for more free time leads to a greater sense of well-being. Researchers at the University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School surveyed more than 6,000 adults in the US, Denmark, Canada, and the Netherlands. Psychologists found paying someone to do your household chores lead to greater life satisfaction and improved mood. Despite the benefits, the researchers were surprised to discover how few people choose to spend their money on such things.

This explains … 

It is no wonder despite our continued increase in incomes, we may still be a very unhappy lot. Because we continue to work long hours and spend our money on accumulating material possessions.

What is happiness anyway?

In talking to people through my travels, the predominant belief is that money cannot buy happiness. That happiness comes from within. So, what is happiness? The Oxford English Dictionary defines happy as “Feeling or showing pleasure or contentment.”

The longest study on happiness was done by researchers at Harvard University. This seventy-five-year study found that good relationships, above all else, are what brings us the greatest degree of happiness.

What does happiness mean for you? Are you spending your money in a way that increases your sense of well-being?

This post contains affiliate links. I may earn a commission on some of these for purchases you make.

Leaving her career in Finance, Jennifer Thompson travels around the world, exploring how people cultivate happiness with and without money.

Her published books on personal finance include: “Women & Money: 7 Steps to Becoming Financially Prepared in Any Economy.” and Growing Up With Money: Raising Financially Resilient Kids in Any Economy.”

Dividing her time between California and the Mediterranean, you can reach her at [email protected]

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