Buy­ing hap­pi­ness

Dis­cre­tionary spend­ing can boost sense of en­joy­ment

Albany Times Union (Sunday) - - SUNDAY MONEY - By Gre­gory Karp Nerdwal­let ▶ [email protected]­

If you have a few ex­tra bucks that you don’t need for ne­ces­si­ties like rent or loan pay­ments, con­sider shop­ping for hap­pi­ness.

From an­cient philoso­phers to cur­rent ex­perts in be­hav­ioral eco­nomics, peo­ple have been pon­der­ing the link be­tween money and hap­pi­ness. Among them 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 think through the ques­tion of whether you can use dis­cre­tionary money to buy hap­pi­ness. Short an­swer: prob­a­bly not. But you can def­i­nitely spend money to in­crease it. A life­time hap­pi­ness shop­ping list might go like this.

■ Buy bet­ter re­la­tion­ships: Key to hap­pi­ness is how you deal with other hu­mans. It’s a re­cur­ring theme. “So if you’re spend­ing your money to broaden re­la­tion­ships 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 corol­lary, 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 barand-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 of­ten the line be­tween ex­pe­ri­ences and things is not 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: One thing that makes peo­ple hap­pier is to feel they have con­trol over their time and they’re not do­ing bor­ing chores,” Ru­bin said. It’s the bal­anc­ing act of money vs. time. If you have a lit­tle ex­tra money buy back time by pay­ing for con­ve­nience.

■ Buy ac­cord­ing to your in­ter­ests: What rep­re­sents a happy ex­pe­ri­ence for one per­son is not 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 hir­ing a per­sonal trainer. 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 a sim­ple fix for re­cur­ring ar­gu­ments or sources of stress, es­pe­cially with a sig­nif­i­cant other? If you ar­gue about a messy home, can you af­ford maid ser­vice? Or, can you af­ford not to get maid ser­vice? “The ques­tion is al­ways,

‘Is it cheaper than mar­riage coun­sel­ing?’” Ru­bin quipped.

■ Buy money peace: “One of the great­est lux­u­ries money can buy is the free­dom not to think about money,” Ru­bin said. “And fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity is some­thing that re­ally con­trib­utes to peo­ple’s hap­pi­ness.” Pay­ing off debt is a good idea, and build­ing an emer­gency fund is an es­pe­cially good one. It pro­vides cash for not only real emer­gen­cies, like a car re­pair, but all those emer­gen­cies in our heads that never hap­pen but keep us up at night be­cause they might. Hap­pi­ness is si­lenc­ing the haunt­ing what-if voices. “The free­dom from worry is a big boost to hap­pi­ness,” she said.

■ 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.

Elaine Thomp­son / As­so­ci­ated Press

Buy­ing a bi­cy­cle can pro­vide an ex­pe­ri­ence or en­hance them, au­thor Gretchen Ru­bin says.

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