The Best Happiness Bang for Your Buck

We’re spending the month of May exploring the intersection between money and happiness.

We’ve already learned that money CAN buy happiness, but that you’re probably spending it wrong.

One way to get more happiness out of your money is to indulge in small sporadic treats. You can also practice gratitude and avoid comparing your stuff to others.

Another way is to spend your money on experiences rather than stuff.

Avoiding Adaptation

The main obstacle to buying happiness comes from how quickly humans adapt. This is why spending money on small, sporadic treats is better for happiness than buying big new things. We get used to the big purchase much more quickly than we get used to the occasional splurge.

The same rationale applies to experiences. We don’t get used to experiences in the same way that we get used to new things.

Even if you are spending your money on one particular type of experience over and over – say, travel – you still are less likely to get used to it enough to ruin your happiness. A trip to Peru is very different from a trip to Chicago is very different from a trip to Prague.

Get Social!

Spending on experiences also advances one of the three human needs that we looked at in the last article – competence, relatedness, and autonomy. Some experiences enhance competence and autonomy, but almost all advance relatedness.

Experiences are generally more social than things. We’ll spend an entire month discussing happiness and relationships later this year, but the short version is that spending time and doing things with your friends and family makes you happy. (Crazy, right?)

Because of this, you’ll get a sizable happiness boost from going bowling with your friends. (Or going to an escape room? Is that the social thing people do now?)

Even traveling alone makes us more social. We still meet and interact with new people during our travels and build new relationships. We feel more connected to others.

Challenge Yourself!

Finally, a lot of experiences can involve challenges and overcoming obstacles.

As we learned when studying the science of happiness, this makes us a lot happier.

Setting yourself an experience-based challenge, like learning a new skill, climbing a mountain, or running a marathon, can get you the standard happiness boost from experiences, but will also make you happier from overcoming obstacles and conquering challenges.

When Things Are Experiences

Of course, there can sometimes be a gray area between experiences and things.

If I buy a boat, it’s a thing. If I take my friends out on it every weekend, it’s an experience. If I buy a guitar, it’s a thing. If I join a band, it’s an experience.

There are a lot of things that you can purchase that you can later turn into experiences. We just need to remember that the happiness comes from the experience and not the thing itself.

Paying a bunch of extra money so that you get the house with the perfect backyard for hosting parties doesn’t make you happier. Doing that and then hosting a barbecue for all your friends every month does.

It’s easy to spend money on these things with great intentions, but no follow-through. We want to spend the extra money on that beautiful open concept space because we imagine hosting our family regularly. We want to buy that boat/snowboard/bike/jet ski because we think of all the fun that we could have.

Just make sure that you’re actually focusing on the experience. Make sure you’re following through. Otherwise you’re just wasting money and not getting any happier.

Squeeze Out Some Extra Happiness

There are also tricks to getting extra happiness out of your experiences.

One of these is to book in advance. Anticipation is a powerful driver of happiness.

When asked about their favorite days of the week, people prefer Friday to Sunday. Weird, right? Sunday is the weekend and Friday is the end of your long workweek.

But Friday is filled with anticipation for the weekend while Sunday is filled with the dread of going back to work the next day. Even though we tend to prefer the events of Sunday to the events of Friday, we’re happier on Friday because of the power of anticipation.

This is backed up by research. People tend to get a big boost to their happiness in the weeks leading up to their vacation, while not having much of a happiness hangover after the vacation. The vacation itself makes us happy, but so does looking forward to it.

Join the Conversation!

So if we want to get the most happiness out of our spending, then we need to spend on experiences, plan in advance, and turn our stuff into experiences.

What steps do you take to buy more experiences? What stuff do you have that you turn into experiences? How have you built anticipation for your experiences? Let us know in the comments!

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