How much is happiness worth to you? Placing a price tag on emotional well-being may seem like a slippery slope, but scientists have a lot to say about the intersection between happiness and the money we spend.
Will the emotional value of a $300 blouse by a Parisian designer really outweigh the satisfaction of a similar one plucked from the clearance rack? Does forgoing affordable indulgences make you frugal — or does it mean you don’t think you deserve what you want? There is growing research that denial of pleasures (when you have the budget for them) isn’t necessarily good for you.
In fact, it looks like happiness can be bought. One caveat: As you might have suspected, not all splurges are alike. So, what kinds of purchases offer the greatest happiness?
1. Go on Vacation
Purchasing experiences, or “money spent on doing,” gives us heightened feelings of pleasure compared to buying things, or “money spent on having,” say study authors from Cornell University, who worked on four different studies. Even “waiting for an experience tends to be more pleasurable” than buying material goods, added the researchers. It appears that the elation you feel from acquiring items is fleeting, while the memories made from an exotic or romantic trip endure.
So, book that vacay as far in advance as you can to get even more ROI (return on investment) on your purchase. Isn’t that well worth the price?
2. Hire a Housekeeper
Go on, use that disposable income to hire someone to dispose of your dust bunnies and wastebasket garbage at home. Giving yourself the gift of free time by hiring someone to do tasks you don’t want to do, such as arranging for a housekeeper, just may be the kind of splurge you need to make your life happier.
In exploring the link between money and happiness, the lead study author at Stanford University found that the way you manage your time plays a “critical role in understanding happiness.” When you save cash to clean your own toilet and do other housekeeping chores yourself, as opposed to doing something you enjoy, you’re squandering valuable time — which can make you sadder.
If you have the resources, consider outsourcing other mundane tasks so you can make more enjoyable use of your time.
3. Pay for Sports
I’ll admit: I suffered a bit of sticker shock when I first signed up for the New York City Marathon. Was the privilege to run really worth shelling out over $250? But, based on research from the UK government on quantifying and valuing the money we spend on things that boost our well-being, I probably paid too little.
Using “self-reported life satisfaction” data provided by their subjects, the analysts determined that not only was sport participation associated with higher levels of happiness, the boost in pleasure was valued at roughly about $1,825 per person, per year, to spend on sports-related activities.
Looks like I still have some money to spare to spend on those barre classes too.
4. Indulge in Something Artistic
If you’re pausing before clicking the buy button for those pricey tickets for center orchestra seats, think again. Studies show that listening to music (either live or purchased recordings) and viewing paintings are linked to boosting our emotional health by inducing us to produce more feel-good chemicals like dopamine. It doesn’t even matter whether the artists are famous or not-so-well-known, subjects got a boost from the endeavor either way.
According to University of Toronto researchers: “Viewing paintings engages not only systems involved in visual representation and object recognition, but also structures underlying emotions and internalized cognitions.” Apparently the pleasure we glean from viewing an artistic performance or attending an art exhibit far outweigh the price tag that many of the hottest performances command.
5. Give to Charity
Feeling a little down? Donate to those less fortunate by writing a check to your favorite causes, shows study after study. Your contribution will help those in need and that definitely feels good. Study authors also found that you’re likely to feel happier if you give your donation directly to someone connected to your charity, rather than giving anonymously. The social connection you develop when you share an interest in a cause with others ramps up the glee you get from helping those who need your helping hand.
6. Pick up the Check Now and Then
Don’t wait until the holidays or a birthday to bestow gifts on your pals and family. Spending money on others may make you happier than spending it on yourself, found psychologists from the University of British Columbia. Considered an insta-mood booster, the amount spent on others didn’t matter that much yet the mere act fosters feelings of pleasure that long outlast the rush you’d get when you splurge on yourself.
So, consider taking your colleagues out for coffee or picking up the tab for that glass of wine with your BFF from time to time. You’ll boost their mood and your own.