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