How to Buy Happiness
|October 16, 2012||Posted by Roshawn Watson under Uncategorized|
By: Roshawn Watson
Money doesn’t buy happiness, or does it? Actually, it may be overly simplistic to presume that money doesn’t influence happiness. For example, it is a fact that there are psychological and biological (including dopamine and insula) rewards associated with spending money, particularly if you are a spendthrift. However, we also know not all purchases are created equal. For instance, if you derive pleasure (rather than pain) from your purchases, do you get a greater sense of reward from a series of small purchases or from a single big purchase? According to numerous studies, the answer depends largely on the type of purchase(s) you are making. Today’s article will discuss how you can buy happiness by augmenting the type of purchases you make.
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Material Purchases Cause Stress
Did you know that there is an emotional burden to making material purchases. Apparently, purchasing trinkets and doodads (such as iPads and smartphones) are associated with increased stress and temporary satisfaction. This happens for numerous reasons. First, we’re more likely to interrogate such purchases to ensure that we get the best deal. With the abundant options available, this in itself can be an exhausting process.
It is the preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else that prevents us from living freely and nobly. Bertrand Russell
Additionally, after we make material purchases, if we subsequently find out that we missed better options, our happiness often will quickly give way to buyer’s remorse. For example, I remember looking at laptops last year. I saw what appeared to be a fabulous deal. It had great reviews. Amazon was the most competitive with respect to pricing. I was just about to pull the trigger UNTIL my wife happened to show me the Target sales paper from 2 weeks earlier. The computer, MY computer, was on sale for 25% less. Of course, Target’s sale had already come and gone. Amazon was now the best deal, but just I couldn’t purchase it anymore, not at THAT price.
Interestingly enough, some data suggest that we are even prone to jealousy of those who capitalize on deals that we couldn’t. Additionally, material purchases can adversely affect us biologically. For example, such purchases provide us with anticipatory highs. They literally activate part of the brain’s reward circuitry. You would think that this would be a good thing; however, the problem is upon their obtainment, our desire for them is satiated, and the “high” dissipates. This phenomena is known as hedonistic adaptation, which is when the joy and excitement obtained from purchases diminish with time. Once it loses its novelty, the thrill is gone as well. Thus, many thrillseekers repeatedly make material purchases in order recapture this pleasure.
Related Article: Is Extreme Frugality for You
In contrast to material purchases, experiential purchases (purchases for experiences) are less stressful, are remembered fondly, and satisfy important needs that bring lasting happiness. When we purchase experiences, we are less likely to critically critique them before, during, and after the purchase. We recognize their uniqueness and value the ways that they enrich our lives. It’s is why people will pay hundreds of dollars to go to concerts when they can instead buy the cd for less than $15. We are likewise less prone to compare experiential purchases to other purchases, as we allow them to stand on their own.
A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
Moreover, experiential purchases are often remembered more fondly afterwards than during the actual experience. How often have we reframed experiences that we previously took for granted as we recognized just how truly remarkable they were? For example, people often relabel their high school or college years as “their best years,” but how many felt that way during that often awkward time. Experiences also provide memory capital for re-living the moment, so they are not as subject to the same boredom we experience after we get material purchases. They additionally appeal to our psychological needs. Experiential purchases, such as going out to dinner or the movies and even going on that special vacation, satisfy higher order needs. According to the need theory , we crave vitality (feeling alive) and social connectedness, and that’s precisely what experiential purchases tap into. Experiential purchases provide us with the greatest sense of well-being. Material purchases simply pale by comparison!
Incidentally, not all types of experiential purchases are the same. Experiential purchases that lend themselves to sharing , rather than individual experiences, tend to result in greater happiness.
Small Purchases or Big Purchases
New data suggesting that a series of small purchases is associated with a similar degree of happiness as a single big ticket item must be viewed within the context of the “material versus experiential purchases” framework. The prevailing thought is that smaller (low cost) purchases, such as dinner and a movie, may more frequently lend themselves with shared experiences, which in turns brings happiness. In the study, participants were most concerned with who they would share the experiences with for smaller (lower cost) purchases. However, for large (high cost) purchases, participants were more concerned with the types of purchase and the prices, which makes sense but also may suggest that these purchases may lead to less happiness. Or course, big ticket purchases can also be for shared experiences, such as family vacations. Thus, review the study results with these points in mind.
I love sharing my stories and experiences with people and connecting to them on both a humorous and emotional level. Tori Spelling
The takeaway is that it is not the dollar amount that is associated with happiness, despite popular belief. While it is true money buys fun, fun is not the same thing as happiness, and the amount of fun one has is not necessarily proportional to the amount you spend. The perfect example is how Trent (The Simple Dollar) loves board games. Dave Ramsey has mentioned that he does as well. Such games don’t cost much money but are big on interaction and can be done very frequently, so my guess is that this “small” purchase results in a lot of happiness.
Moreover, be particularly careful how you frame your purchases too. For example, if you frame a small material purchase, such as buying a new cd as hours of a pleasurable experience rather than obtaining someone’s latest release, you are more likely to derive greater join from it. Who is to say that you couldn’t have a rich life on a small budget, provided that your budget includes meaningful experiences that provide you with a deeper connection with people you care about?
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Image Credit: Mads Boedker