How to Buy Happiness
Since the 1900’s there’s been this idea of “keeping up with the Joneses” and how we need to consume more and acquire more material wealth in order to be happy. There has also been a backlash to that with the saying “money can’t buy you happiness” which rejects the idea of constant consumption as a source of feeling better about yourself. So which is it? Does money buy you happiness? I want to come down decisively in the “it depends” column. Research into this question has concluded that there are right and wrong ways to spend money and simply spending to increase material consumption or to “catch up” with neighbors doesn’t add to your overall happiness. However, spending money in the right ways will increase your happiness and overall satisfaction with life, so we will take a look at those methods today.
It turns out that experiences are far better at making you happier than material possessions, which should make sense for anyone who has a memorable experience. If you’ve recently become an RN or an attending, there can be some social pressure to greatly upgrade your lifestyle to reflect your new income. However, buying a big house or a fancy car or whatever else your colleagues are buying does not lead to lasting happiness and will likely put you in more debt than you need. I see this fairly regularly where a doctor sees all their peers buying houses and feels as though they need to be part of that crowd when it could put them in long term financial jeopardy.
Instead of being sucked into this loop, think about an experience that you have always wanted to have and instead of buying a big house, maybe visit a country or place that’s special to you. These experiences do not have to be so grand either, perhaps it’s going to a concert, play, or movie you really want to see. If you are lacking an excess of funds to spend, go for a hike to a cool place around where you live. There are plenty of experiences to be had from anywhere between free and quite expensive. The important thing is that you go out and experience something that will stick with you longer than the joy over getting some new toy. I still remember plays I went to on Broadway when I was young, as well as places I have hiked far more clearly than items I have bought myself. Having money allows you to seek out grander experiences, but not making a high salary still means you can find experiences that will increase your satisfaction.
Spending on Others
What if you make a great salary but have no interest in experiencing new things or travelling? Well, it turns out that spending money on other people or investing in them can be a great way to increase your happiness and feelings of wealth. For doctors and nurse practitioners, you know how hard that road can be to travel, so helping others coming up can be a great way to not only connect with those around you and form better relationships with colleagues, but also feel great. This can also be applied to helping the community around you, whether that means charitable work or community outreach. These can be great ways to increase your own personal satisfaction without breaking the bank.
As doctors or anyone who runs a small business or private practice, your time is perhaps your most valuable asset. Regardless of how much you love your job, I can guarantee that there are parts that you wish you did not have on your plate. Perhaps paperwork is what drives you mad and sucks your time away. Maybe it’s the accounting or other business functions. Spending money on outsourcing these tasks can lead to a great sense of relief and joy as you realize that someone else is responsible for that task you hate every month. This will also allow you to spend more time on aspects of your career that you love, so it’s a happiness double whammy. You’re able to remove the negative parts of your job, and increase the time spent on the aspects you love.
Maybe there are material possessions you really enjoy and lead to happiness for you, and that is great. However, it may be worthwhile to maintain the excitement you feel and limit access to it so your joy doesn’t decline as rapidly. Many new doctors and nurses are able to suddenly afford items that they were not able to buy when in nursing/medical school and are determined to treat themselves. However, abundance can be the enemy of appreciation and the more you consume the less joy you get from consuming. By purposefully limiting access to something you enjoy you are able to preserve that feeling of excitement far longer.
To go along with preserving the excitement of whatever item you have bought, another method is to delay the consumption of a material good or experience. By delaying the consumption of something, you are able to build anticipation and create more joy when you finally are able to use that item. For example, you could book a vacation for a year in the future. That way when you are working night shifts or on call you can be thinking of how great that vacation will be. When you finally make it to the vacation, the price you’ve paid for it will have been in the past so you can separate the enjoyment and the price, as well as enjoy the climax of your anticipation.
While the tagline of “Money can’t buy happiness” is certainly appealing, it can be somewhat difficult to put into practice. In this country there is still a deeply ingrained idea that we need to consume in order to be happy and successful in life. This goes hand in hand with the feeling of competition we feel with our peers as their decisions and accomplishments spur our own decisions and expenditures. However, if you are able to take a step back and take a bird’s eye view of life you will see that having experiences that are meaningful to you will lead to a far happier life than if you just consume or try to keep up with colleagues and neighbors. What do you think about how to create happiness in your life? What strategies have you employed to bring yourself joy? Send me a message as I would love to hear what you have done!