Can Money Buy Happiness? Maybe.
We’ve all been told that it can't. This can seem true. You probably know people who have very little money and seem quite happy. You probably also know people who are wealthy and miserable. So having a big paycheck is no guarantee of happiness.
But let’s turn happiness from a simple state into a continuum, with extreme joy and contentment at the top end, and extreme misery at the bottom.
Purists may argue that positive and negative emotions are distinct phenomena. But measures of Quality of Life go from the 1st percentile (very displeased with one’s life) to the 100th (very pleased indeed). And all of us can understand statements like “I don’t feel as bad as I did yesterday, so I guess that’s better” and “I’m not the happiest ever, but I’m still pretty happy.” We instinctively grasp that how we feel can fall along a line from negative to positive.
If happiness is a continuum, then it’s like a two-way street. Doing something may lift us higher or drop us lower. If we are dubious about the idea that having money (or doing something in particular with it) might raise us upward, then we can look the other way.
“Is there any way of making yourself LESS happy by handling money in a certain way?”
At this point, suddenly everyone comes on board. Yes, there are all kinds of ways of making ourselves miserable with money. Spend it all. Go into debt. Buy huge piles of possessions that give nothing back. Waste it in the casino. Purchase intoxicants and spend life in a haze. Plunk it down on a huge mortgage that will enslave you for life. Easy.
So if using money one way can lower our position on the happiness scale, then surely doing something else can raise it as well. At minimum, we can retain our existing position by avoiding those mood-lowering traps. So although we might not be able to guarantee lasting, ecstatic, continuous happiness, we can certainly have an influence on ourselves.
Psychologist Daniel Gilbert (author of Stumbling on Happiness) has pointed out that most of our decisions are based, at least in part, on the impact they will have on our future mood.
- If I get this car, I’ll enjoy it.
- If I order the ravioli, it’ll be delicious.
- If I get married I will feel fulfilled.
- If I achieve what my father wants for me, I will feel successful.
The result, when it comes to money, is that if we spend based on instinct and impulse, we are almost certain to be less happy than we could be. If we were to adopt a more considered approach, we could boost ourselves on that life satisfaction scale.
There are two nice aspects about this idea:
- Considerable research has been done that examines the actual impact of spending behavior on subsequent happiness.
- We have all, unintentionally, been conducting happiness research on ourselves all our lives – by making decisions and then feeling something afterward. We just haven’t analyzed the data.
So if we look at what actually seems to make most people happy, and what has, in fact, made ourselves happy in the past, we can guide our behavior more effectively.
In the online course How to Buy Happiness we consider various strategies to influence life satisfaction through spending. Some of this is based on the existing research. Some of it is based on my years of discussing these issues with clients. And much of it is based on your own experience working with yourself.
Throughout the course, one principle dominates:
In order to buy happiness, you have to buy happiness.
Sounds profound, doesn’t it? What I mean by this is that you cannot simply scatter money around and expect to get happiness as a side effect, like a prize at the bottom of a cereal box. You actually have to target your happiness more directly. This takes thought and planning.
Does all this sound a bit, umm, selfish?
It should. It does to me. But if we look at people who have the greatest life satisfaction, they tend not to be particularly selfish. They are active, engaged in the world, and generally pursuing pro-social ends. They use their financial resources in the pursuit – and fulfillment - of their values.
My experience has been that people who go through this process do indeed raise their satisfaction with life. But they also buy fewer objects and feel better about the money they spend. Rather than spending on their temptations, they spend on their aspirations.
So what happens in the course?
You’ll learn about the research and hear lots of examples, You will comb through your expenses, your bills, your debts, and your own past to develop a personalized plan for a better life. Along the way you'll work through a series of exercises in the accompanying 60-page workbook (included with the course).
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In addition to the preview above, some of the lectures are also available as free previews, so you can get a sense of the course before you buy. Just use the link below to access the discounted version of the course.
The regular cost of this course is $130 USD. You can get this course for just $50USD by using the coupon code “happiness50.” For that discount, click here. The link will take you to the site, where you can see the additional preview videos and decide whether to go any further.
But as part of the launch of this course, we're offering a deeper discount to just $10USD using the coupon code "happiness10." There is a limited number of spaces on this coupon, and it will stop working January 1. To get that discount, click here.
Once at the site, you can read more about the course, preview some of the videos, and decide whether you want to take it. The price, should you go on to purchase the course, will be reduced automatically.
You'll get a series of over 25 short videos, 5 to 15 minutes long, plus a 60-page downloadable PDF exercise book to help you apply the ideas in your own life.
Want a bit more indication of what’s in the course? Here are the lecture titles:
Section 1: Happiness swings both ways
• Can money really buy happiness?
• The nature of happiness: A behavioural control system
• The relationship between income and life satisfaction
• Can money buy misery? Yes!
Section 2: Purchasing the future: Why do we buy?
• The onward arrow: Every purchase is instrumental
• You’ve been conducting happiness experiments all your life
• Planning the future by mining the past
Section 3: The price of slavery
• Your balance of assets and liabilities
• Taking a look at your ballast: Debt and unhappiness
• Swimming into the light: A path out of debt
Section 4: A dose of reality: Income versus DISPOSABLE income
• Andre takes a hit: Income versus disposable income
• Your turn: Calculating your own disposable income
• Pricing your purchases in work hours
Section 5: How to give yourself a raise
• Andre doubles his disposable income
• Finding the Easter eggs: Increasing your OWN disposable income
Section 6: How to change your life
• Finding north: Defining your Ultimate Goals
• SMART Immediate Goals: The steps on the path
Section 7: Buying happiness without buying anything
• Your single biggest happiness purchase
• Pay yourself first: Budgets do not work!
• Freedom can be bought
Section 8: Buying happiness with real money
• Spend the most on things you hate
• Luxury at last
Section 9: Non material purchases: How to spend money with no object
• Savings: How to build up a happiness-inducing nestegg
• Experiences versus objects: Why events induce more happiness than things
• Voluntary tax: The charitable sector as a source of your own happiness
• Buying personal enhancements: The value of skill-building
Section 10: Check, please!
• Your five year plan
• Live the life you envision
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