Buying happiness

WHICH WAY TO GO? — Vitalii Myroshnychenko, right, test rides a bike atop a stand as Denis Rybalchenko looks on in REI Co-op’s flagship store in Seattle. The usual advice is “buy experiences, not things.” But that requires a deeper dive. A bicycle can provide an experience, and a new camera can preserve one.



If you have a few extra bucks that you don’t need for necessities like rent or loan payments, consider shopping for happiness.

From ancient phil­os­o­phers to current behaviorists, peop­le have been pon­der­ing the link between money and happiness. Among them is author Gret­chen Rubin, who thinks about happiness for a living. She’s writ­ten sev­eral books on hap­pi­ness, including “The Hap­pi­ness Project” and the forth­coming “Outer Order, Inner Calm.”

She helped think through the question of whether you can use dis­cretionary money to buy happiness. Short answer: probably not. But you can definitely spend money to increase it. A lifetime happiness shopping list might go like this.

n Buy better re­la­tion­ships. It’s a recurring theme. “So if you’re spend­ing your money to broaden relationships, that’s a good way to spend money,” Rubin said. Use dis­cretionary money to at­tend a college reunion or a friend’s destination wed­ding. Young adults often experience an intense period of socializing, searching for life partners and networking for career opportunities — all potential sources of happiness. Maybe in­crease bar-and-res­tau­rant spending or pay for a dating app.

n Buy experiences — and some things. The usual advice is “buy ex­per­i­ences, not things.” But that requires a deep­er dive. “What I find is often the line between ex­per­i­ences and things is not that clear,” Rubin said. A bicycle can provide an ex­per­ience, and a new cam­era can preserve one. So buy experiences, especially with other people, but also think about buying ma­ter­ial things to enhance your experiences.

n Buy solutions. Also known as “throw money at the problem.” “One thing that makes people happier is to feel they have control over their time and they’re not doing boring chores,” Rubin said. So that could mean paying someone else to do yardwork or using a full-service laundry. It’s the balancing act of money vs. time. If you have a little extra money, buy back time by paying for convenience.

n Buy discipline. Want to improve your diet or fitness but have trouble sum­moning motivation? Use your money. That might mean choosing a pri­cier gym that’s more con­ven­ient or even hiring a personal trainer to add ac­count­ability. At the super­mar­ket, it could mean buy­ing healthy foods that are more convenient, like bagged salad. “If you can make it easier to get yourself to do something you want to do, that’s a good way to spend your money,” Rubin said.

n Buy stress relief. Is there a simple fix for re­cur­ring arguments or sources of stress, especially with a significant other? If you argue about a messy home, can you afford maid ser­vice? Or, can you afford not to get maid service? “The question is always, ‘Is it cheap­er than marriage coun­seling?’ ” Rubin quipped.

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