Positive psychology

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Can Money Buy Happiness?

No. Maybe. Yes? The answer to the question depends on a number of considerations: how happiness is defined; our attitudes and beliefs about money; how much and on whom the money is spent, and for what purpose.

Happiness may come from a sense of well-being and current satisfaction with our financial lives, or from the expectation of having more money that we have now, so that we can buy more things, or have more experiences.

Happiness can also be defined by our attitudes toward money. Have you thought about your “core beliefs” about money—what money means to you? Does it mean security and relief from stress? Or freedom to do what you want to do and go where you’d like?

Would more money give you greater control over your life as a whole? Would these benefits equate with happiness?

Psychologists tell us that many of our attitudes and beliefs about money are based in childhood. Whether it’s from a childhood of poverty or one of privilege, we have internalized messages about the importance and use of money.

Because money has powerful symbolic meanings such as security, freedom, power, ego, control, acceptance or rejection, it is those messages sometimes distorted that determine how some of us use money today, and to what extent happiness results.

Nearly all of us have complicated relationships with money. If we use our finances based on distorted beliefs about money we’ll continue to struggle, living paycheck-to-paycheck. If we expect money to bring us happiness, what is needed is a serious examination of our money beliefs and revising them into healthier attitudes and behaviors.

Money can have either positive or negative effects on relationships leading to greater or lessened happiness. In a number of polls it is clear that couples argue about money and financial issues more than any other issue, especially as children come along.

Tension for couples often arises because of the difference in each one’s money personality or mindset. These core beliefs about money determine how one will behave with their money.

One may be a saver, one who takes pleasure in having cash in the bank or saving on purchased items. Savers turn off lights when leaving a room; clip coupons or price-comparative shop, sometimes delaying purchases to wait for better, lower prices. Delayed gratification has its own reward for savers. Finding good bargains creates intense pleasure. It fits in with Savers’ more conservative nature.

The other partner may be a spender. Spenders want what they want ... now. Pleasure comes from making purchases and enjoying them in the moment. Spenders love gadgets, toys, new electronic equipment, the latest cell phones, brand-name clothing, and keeping up with the Joneses. Many cannot resist spending even if it is not on something they need.

Spenders are not bargain shoppers. They probably haggle very little, if at all, over a price point. Spenders typically have little to no money saved, but as long as they have a steady income stream, it does not seem to bother them.

The behavior of each money personality and mindset may place limitations of a couple’s happiness. The downside for savers is that they may delay buying things they really need, or regret not buying things that they’ve always wanted. Savers may be perceived as skin-flints or cheap-skates, always more concerned about the price of things than the pleasure that buying something special might bring them.

The negative aspect for spenders may be out-of-control spending and debt accumulation. No amount of “toys” will allow spenders to sleep well at night if they are stressed out over money worries.

Neither extreme – frugality or excessive spending ­– will produce agreement, cohesiveness in relationships or happiness in the long run.

There is a relationship between the increase in income and the level of happiness. Wealthy people, as defined by having a net worth of $2.3 Million (according to this year’s Modern Wealth Survey) are happier than poor people. (The Federal Poverty Level for 2019 is: individuals-$12,490; a family of two-$16,910; a family of three-below the amount of $21,300 of total household income.) The poor, and the not-so-poor, would certainly agree that having more money would add to their happiness.

A number of studies have shown that when people have enough money to meet their basic needs happiness continues to grow. A 2013 study by University of Michigan professors Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers found that there was no point at which happiness leveled off, and the richer people got, the more satisfied they were with their lives.

Can money buy happiness? Dr. Mark Holder, in a Psychology Today, 2017 article just may have the recipe for spending your money to increase happiness:

1. Buy time. Hire someone to mow your lawn, clean your house, have a pizza delivered, and/or wash your car.

2. Spend your money on others. Research show that spending on others provides greater happiness than spending on ourselves.

3. Buy experiences, not things. The reason is that experiences increase happiness over the long run. We can anticipate the experiences with excitement, and relive the experiences through photographs and reminiscences.

Investing in experiences will provide greater and more long-lasting happiness than buying things. According to David DiSolvo in Forbes (2/28/15), “It appears that the real magic in experiential purchases is anticipation.”

However, keep in mind that no matter how you spend your money, debt is not your friend, and can undermine happiness more than one can realize.
Money CAN buy happiness. It just depends on how much you have and what you do with it.

Contact Dr. Thompson at caroltmcc@comcast.net

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