Live Right, Live Well

Does Money Buy Happiness?

The link between money and happiness may surprise you. Learn what researchers say it takes to feel f...

As the Beatles' song goes, money can’t buy you love -- but does money buy happiness? The answer: Maybe. Recently, researchers from Princeton University surveyed 450,000 people about their household income, everyday emotional states, and overall feelings about their life and well-being. What they found is that happiness increases along with annual household income up to about $75,000, but beyond that, earning more money doesn't affect your emotional well-being.

“Low income exacerbates the emotional pain associated with such misfortunes as divorce, ill health and being alone,” the researchers note, but earning more than $75,000 a year doesn’t necessarily make people like their lives better or make them feel better about themselves on a daily basis.

The good news: You can take steps to increase your happiness, no matter how much money you make. Here’s how:

1. Spend your money on happy experiences rather than material possessions. Researchers from San Francisco State University found that spending money on enjoyable experiences (like a beach vacation) can make you happier than buying material possessions (like an expensive watch). “People report a sense of feeling invigorated or inspired when they spend their money on life experiences because experiences have a way of creating an emotional reserve or ‘memory capital’,” explains study coauthor Ryan Howell, who has a doctorate in psychology and is an assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State. “After an experience, people are able to reflect on their experience and glean emotional benefits” that last long after it has ended.

2. Cultivate a sense of meaning and purpose. Rather than looking to your paycheck for personal validation, ask yourself: What would make my life feel meaningful? What do I really want? What matters most to me? Then, set goals to help you realize this vision. For example, if you realize that helping other people gives you a sense of purpose, look for new volunteer opportunities. On the other hand, if creativity matters most to you, it’s time to carve out opportunities to write, draw, paint or otherwise engage in an artistic pursuit.

3. Spend time with people who make you feel good. Whether you're doing something that costs money (like going out for lunch or a movie) or an activity that’s free (like taking a walk or a bike ride), make an effort to do it with positive and supportive people. Not only will spending time with friends make you happier, but “having a positive social network gives you a sense of belonging and makes you feel like you’re contributing to someone else’s life,” says Maryann Troiani, who has a doctorate in clinical psychology and is the coauthor of Spontaneous Optimism: Proven Strategies for Health, Prosperity and Happiness. This, in turn, can provide a buffer from stress and make you feel happier.

4. Develop a positive outlook. Whether you're struggling to get by financially or you’re comfortably well off, consciously focusing on what’s good in your life can engender a sense of optimism and a can-do attitude that will help you handle challenges more easily, regardless of how much money you have, Troiani says. To do this, use upbeat words in place of upsetting words -- by describing a challenge as “an opportunity to make a positive change” rather than “a problem.” Also, consider what you’re grateful for, expect things to get better (not worse), and try to embrace change instead of fearing it. When you think positively, happiness follows.



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