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Yes, Money Can Buy (Some) Happiness

If you’ve got a few extra bucks that you don’t need for necessities like rent or loan payments, think about shopping for happiness.

From ancient philosophers to current experts in behavioral economics, people have been pondering the link between money and happiness. One such person is author Gretchen Rubin, who thinks about happiness for a living. She’s written several books on happiness, including “The Happiness Project” and the forthcoming “Outer Order, Inner Calm.”

She helped me think about whether you can use discretionary money to buy happiness. The short answer: probably not. But you can spend money to increase it. A lifetime happiness shopping list might go like this.

Buy Better Relationships

The key to happiness is how you deal with other humans. It’s a recurring theme. “So if you’re spending your money to broaden or deepen relationships, that’s a good way to spend your money,” Rubin said. Use discretionary money to attend a college reunion or a friend’s destination wedding.

A result, especially for younger adults: Buy a social life. Young adults often experience an intense period of socializing with friends, searching for life partners, and networking for career opportunities — all potential sources of happiness. Maybe increase social bar-and-restaurant spending or pay for a dating app.

Buy Experiences — And Some Things

The usual advice is “buy experiences, not things.” But that requires a deeper dive.

“What I find is that often the line between experiences and things isn’t  that clear,”

 Rubin said. A bicycle can provide an experience, and a new camera can preserve one. So buy experiences, especially with other people, but also think about buying material things that allow you to have experiences or enhance them.

Buy Solutions

Also known as “throw money at the problem” or “buy back time.”

“One thing that makes people happier is to feel they have control over their time and they’re not doing boring chores,” Rubin said. So that could mean paying someone else to do yardwork or using a full-service laundry. It’s the balancing act of money vs. time. If you have a little extra money — probably because you sold your time to an employer — buy back time by paying for convenience.

Buy According to Your Interests

What represents a happy experience for one person isn’t necessarily the same for another. Someone who mostly dines out should probably not use discretionary money to buy a fancy set of kitchen knives. But someone who loves to cook? Maybe so.

Rubin reminds us, “Beautiful tools make work a joy.”

Buy Discipline

Want to improve your diet or fitness but have trouble summoning motivation? Use your money. That might mean choosing a pricier gym that’s more convenient or even hiring a personal trainer to add accountability. At the supermarket, it could mean buying healthy foods that are more convenient, like bagged salad.

“If you can make it slightly easier to get yourself to do something you want to do, that’s a good way to spend your money,” Rubin said.

Buy Stress Relief

Is there an easy solution for those repetitive arguments or stress points, especially with a loved one? If you find yourselves arguing about a messy home, could hiring a maid be a game-changer? Or maybe, can you afford to pass up on the idea of getting some help?

As Rubin puts it, “The real question is, ‘Is it more budget-friendly than marriage counseling?

Buy Money Peace

“One of the sweetest perks money can give you is the freedom to not constantly worry about it,” Rubin shared. “Having financial security adds to people’s happiness.”

Clearing off debts is a smart move, and creating an emergency fund is an even smarter one. It gives you cash not just for actual emergencies, like fixing a car, but also for all those imagined scenarios that never really occur but manage to keep us tossing and turning at night. Happiness, in a way, is putting a muzzle on those nagging ‘what-if’ voices.

“Being free from constant worry is a significant happiness booster,” she emphasized.

Buy Wiggle Room

If you’ve got some extra cash, go ahead and treat yourself to a bit of carefree living without any repercussions. Maybe it’s just splurging on a couple more pairs of underwear, so you’re not stuck doing laundry every single week.

Buy a Do-Gooder High

Be charitable. “Contributing to others is a great way to support the causes you believe in and put your values into the world,” Rubin said.

If you add a few of these purchases to your life’s shopping cart, chances are you’ll be happier when you check out.

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