Three science-backed ideas that say ‘yes’, money can indeed buy joy.

It’s a given: happiness comes from within. But what if we were to spend our hard-earned cash on things that nourish our interior worlds?

These money-moving tactics, recommended by researchers, are designed to build happiness by doing just that.

1. Spend your money on others

British Columbia University’s Associate Professor Elizabeth Dunn believes that ‘pro-social’ spending – voluntary spending intended to benefit others – can build happiness.

“Research shows that adults around the world and even young children experience emotional benefits from using their resources to help others, suggesting that humans may have a deep-seated proclivity to find giving rewarding,” Dunn and colleagues write in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science.

There are, however, a few rules.

Pro-social spending makes us happiest when it:

  • Provides you with an opportunity to connect with others
  • Is directed towards people you’re close to, rather than towards acquaintances
  • Allows you to see the results of your spending, i.e. how it’s made a difference
  • Is your choice to give, rather than something you feel pressured to do

2. Spend money on a holiday with, or a visit to, a happy friend

Stress is contagious, says physician and author Dr Joseph Mercola. “If you surround yourself with others who are stressed (either by choice or circumstance), it’s probably affecting your mental and physical health.”

On his website, Mercola cites research in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology which found that the act of observing someone else in a stressful situation can trigger an empathic stress response in the observer.

The good news is that the reverse is also true. Making time to be in the company of happy people has a flow-on effect.

As Mercola writes: “Positive emotions are actually more contagious than negative emotions. Other research has shown that people who are surrounded by many happy people are more likely to become happy in the future.”

The Science of Happiness

3. Spend money on leisure time and being able to access your ‘people’, rather than on a fancy house

Buying a house is a huge financial goal, and proud achievement, for many of us. But does it make us happy?

A study of US female homeowners by Grace Wong Bucchianeri, assistant professor of real estate at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, found that on variety of wellbeing measures, homeowners are no better off than renters.

She writes: “Instead, they [homeowners] derive significantly more pain from their house and home… One potential mechanism is time use-differences: female homeowners tend to spend less time on enjoyable activities, such as active leisure.”

New York Times’ Michelle Higgins cites a further study by Elizabeth Dunn and colleagues that examined the happiness of university students living in desirable houses over that of those living in less desirable abodes.

The researchers found no difference in contentment levels amongst the two groups, reports Higgins.

“The study indicated that by placing so much weight on the physical characteristics of the houses, including location, room size and architectural appeal, the students overlooked what ended up contributing most to their happiness — the quality of their social life.”

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