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‘Tis the Season for Buying: Why Not Buy Happiness?

Nov 28, 2011
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The holidays are here and ’tis the season for buying. I could tell you not waste any money buying gifts this holiday season, but that’s not going to work. Of course you are going to spend money on gifts for holidays. I could also tell you that if you are giving in order to feel good about giving, then the best thing to give is an unexpected compliment, not an expected gift.

Since it’s gift-giving season, you’re going to spend money in order to (hopefully!) make the recipient happy. The general rule of thumb is this department is that money cannot buy happiness. Although, certain ways of living are more conducive to happiness than others. It’s hard to monitor ourselves all the time, but when buying gifts you can use your money to help people create the kind of life that is most likely to make them happy. So, in a sense, money can buy happiness.

Ignore most of the items on other peoples’ lists. 

Most people put things on their lists that feels too extravagant to buy on their own. “Seeing the BMW may make you feel unhappy, but psychological studies show that obtaining the BMW would not make you happy,” says Gregg Easterbrook, a psychologist and visiting fellow at the Brookings Institute. The more emphasis one puts on materialism, the more likely that person will be depressed and anxious. Chasing happiness through material objects becomes a wild goose chase, and you will never buy the one thing that will set someone on the happiness track. So, how can you buy happiness?

Buy experiences, not objects. 

Most people, when looking back on their lives, wish they had done things that cost time and not money. The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland has conducted long-term research about terminally ill patients. According to the study, “It is much more common for people to regret not the things they did, but the fact that there were so many things they didn’t have the time to do.” So, if you can, gift the gift of an experience. You can also give people time in their lives to have those experiences by using money to buy time. For example, giving the gift of a cleaning service frees up time in the recipient’s life to do something for themselves.

If it’s a dream-come-true gift, then it’s probably not the right one.

It’s true that money does not buy happiness, but only if you are not living in poverty. Terence Burnham, psychologist at Harvard University, reports that financial security is relative, and we simply need to feel that we have what our friends have. The results of Burnham’s research have been repeated often enough to be certain that people will feel happier having what their friends have, but not necessarily happier having more things than their peers.

Give coaching.

Most people have personal barriers to achieving happiness. They are lacking self-discipline, they are overwhelmed with their commitments, or they are stuck in a rut. I realized how important coaching is when I was doing research for an article about time management tips. I ended up interviewing people who gave me such helpful information that I hired one of them to coach me. It changed how I see my time. You can provide the same opportunity for someone by giving them a coaching service. There are many online resources to help you find the right coach.

Give yourself. 

Relationships, rather than things, are what really make people happy. The more money you spend, the more time you have to spend earning money. Forgo the present you might have purchased for yourself, or for someone else, and make yourself more available to the people you love, instead.

“Tis the Season for Buying: Why Not Buy Happiness?” was contributed by Penelope Trunk. 



The above article is intended to provide generalized financial information designed to educate a broad segment of the public; it does not give personalized tax, investment, legal or other business and professional advice. Before taking any action, you should always seek the assistance of a professional who knows your particular situation for advice on your taxes, your investments, the law or any other business and professional matters that affect you and/or your business.

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