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Money and Happiness

Written by Nickel - 8 Comments

“Money can’t buy you happiness, but it does bring you a more pleasant form of misery.”

-Spike Milligan

As a followup to my piece earlier this week in which I argued that it’s okay to spend money, I thought I’d highlight an interview with NY Times personal finance columnist M.P. Dunleavy that I ran across in a recent issue of Bottom Line/Personal. The topic of the interview is whether or not money can bring happiness, and Dunleavy offers an interesting take.

In short, she argues that “we’re stuck on a hamster wheel of acquisition. We use our money to buy stuff, then expect this stuff to make us happy.” She goes on to argue that, no matter how many new gadgets and geegaws we purchase, there’s always something else that we want — we’re hard-wired to desire more stuff.

So if buying more stuff is the wrong strategy to achieve happiness with your money, what’s the right strategy? Dunleavy offers a few possibilities…

(1) Spend money on relationships. Studies have shown that the more time we spend around other people, the happier we are. This isn’t to say that you should buy yourself some friends. But why not splurge on the occasional outing with people that you like, or travel to visit loved ones?

(2) Invest in personal challenges. Take a special cooking course, participate in sports (she even suggests considering a sporting camp for adults). These sorts of activities also have the potential to improve your health, and that also tends to make people happier.

(3) Pay someone to do things that you’re not comfortable with. If you lie awake at night fretting about your investments, home maintenance tasks, or whatever, consider enlisting the help of a trained professional. Similarly, if you consider certain tasks particularly distasteful (e.g., yard work), Dunleavy suggests outsourcing them to a neighbor kid or a sevice. Hiring someone to help out in certain areas can buy you free time to relax and enjoy life.

(4) Donate to charity. The act of giving not only helps out a worthy cause, it also creates positive feelings in the giver. The key is to select a charity that’s meaningful to you. I would add to this that, if you don’t have the money to make a contribution, consider donating time. This not only creates the same feeling of generosity (and helps out in much the same way as donating money), it also helps you establish relationships and challenge yourself (#1 and #2, above).

So… If you’re looking for ways to improve your quality of life, think about the above before you rush out and buy the next great thing.

Published on August 17th, 2007
Modified on June 9th, 2008 - 8 Comments
Filed under: Miscellany

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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8 Responses to “Money and Happiness”

  1. 1
    Michael Rubin Says:

    Great post!

    I’d add to your list: Enjoy free stuff!

    Think back to when you were younger and enjoying a late summer night before your parents finally dragged you inside – you were having the time of your life. And how much did such a memorable experience cost you? Nothing – you were 10 years old, you had no money.

    Try revisiting your true passions and hobbies that you don’t seem to have time for anymore (it varies for each of us but could be reading, going to the library, hiking, biking, visiting the beach, talking with a friend, walking and so on). You won’t be spending any money during your activity (maybe a whole afternoon or entire day if you try) and you’ll be reconnecting with the things you most enjoy.

  2. 2
    TheZenDollar Says:

    Great Suggestions! I like to live both frugal and minimalistic in terms of material possessions, however I don’t at all mind spending money on great food or drink with excellent company. I don’t mind at all going out and spending time with some good friends over a good conversation and a bottle of wine.

  3. 3
    Michael Rubin Says:

    Nor should you mind. Of course, the key is balance. It’s hard for most ordinary folks to purchase countless material goods, spend big bucks constantly visiting fine dining establishments, and also find a way to save. However, selectively choosing to spend comfortably on the things you truly enjoy makes for an pleasurable yet fiscally responsible life.

  4. 4
    Minimum Wage Says:

    It could be worse – imagine being stuck on a hamster wheel of NON-acquisition.

  5. 5
    plonkee Says:

    Now I just need to acquire some excess money.

    I was browsing in a bookshop the other day and flicked through a book on happiness, and its idea was that living a virtuous life makes you happy not so much not doing bad things as trying to do the things that you feel are right.

  6. 6
    Robert Says:

    I think my favorite quote yet on this subject is: “Money can’t buy you happiness, but it can buy you a yacht big enough to pull up right alongside it.” — David Lee Roth

  7. 7
    MITBeta Says:

    @plonkee: I hope you wrote down the book title so that you can borrow it from the local library… ;D

  8. 8
    Mariette Says:

    Yes, trying to find hapiness through “shopping therapy” and other forms of aquisition is a bottomless bit – there’s no way can ever have enough, no matter how much money we have. After all, even people who have no money at all, provided they aren’t starving of course or living in the midst of a war zone, can be very happy. You need only to travel through the developing world to witness that first hand.

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