I'm quite sure you've heard tell of how money cannot buy you happiness, or health, or class, or love, or a host of other things... And in many ways that is true. Having money, in itself is not a guarantee to happiness. Happiness is not a reward for hard work or earning money; it is a consequence of a series of choices we make each and every day.
I have found that the main reason having a lot more money doesn't make people proportionally happier is that they spend the money on the wrong things. Indeed, having money gives one access to better medical care, better nutrition, bigger, better and faster toys, better education and a whole lot more.
I have friends who swear by 'shopping therapy' - a shopping spree intended to shake them out of a funk or make them feel happier by acquiring some new outfit, gadget or toy. Sometimes it's a dress, other times, it's a car... But that's where the problem is. Buying stuff does not necessarily make one happy - and if it does, the effect is short lived. I was surprised to find a scholarly document by faculty of Harvard University, the University of British Columbia and the University of Virginia on the correlation between money and happiness, and it makes for good easy reading, if you are so inclined: If Money Doesn't Make You Happy Then You Probably Aren't Spending It Right.
Science has shown that experiences are better than things at providing happiness, probably because we adapt to new things fairly quickly. How long does the excitement of a new car last? Or the giddiness of having that hot dress? I remember being excited about getting a set of furniture I had wanted for a long time. For days, my heart would just flutter when I got home to see the shiny new furniture decked out in the living room. Soon after, it was just my cool furniture. The reason physical purchases don't satisfy us is that once the excitement wears off, we need another purchase to give us that high again. It becomes a cycle that constantly needs feeding, and, in between highs, we are not as happy.
Experiences, on the other hand, give us a high that we relive any time we recollect or recount the experience. I had my first parasailing experience in the Bahamas a few years ago. I was very nervous about it but I did it anyway. Once I got over the roller coaster feel from the winds, I began to take in the awesomeness of the views and the whole experience. High up in the air, I noticed the calm and stillness and couldn't help but feel like I was getting a glimpse of the Universe's point of view. The waves lapped languidly at the shore, tiny people were going about their business, fish were swimming in the clear water...and I was above it all, with nary a sound but my breathing and my heartbeat. It was an incredible spiritual moment I count in my top 5. I also remember distinctly, the exhilaration of being at the controls and flying a plane for the first time; the headiness of being taken by helicopter from Van Nuys to Long Beach for dinner... To this day, I get excited thinking about those experiences or telling people about them - and of course, I don't need to be asked twice, and I'll be bursting to tell the story again. Like I just did.
In a recent study of more than one thousand Americans, it was found that those who purchased experiences (57%) derived greater happiness from their purchase than those who purchased physical items (34%). We anticipate the experiences and remember them much more that physical things - and that is the secret to happiness. Well, at least one of them. Things bring us happiness only when we use them, but experiences makes us happy when we think about them.
So I've learnt that money CAN buy you happiness. You just have to spend it on the right things...
Next time you need an 'upper', or you feel the urge to shop to make you happy, consider taking a cooking class, or going to a concert, or learning a new skill. You'll be glad you did and you will prolong the effect of your happiness.