As we continue to look at how money can actually buy happiness, we come to 2 additional ways from the book by Dunn and Norton. (For the first three see 3 Ways That Money Can Buy Happiness).

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4. By paying first and only later consuming.

There is something about anticipating and looking forward to an event or a purchase that enables us to enjoy it more. On one level that seems common sense. If I get everything that I want right now then I am more likely to take it for granted and keep looking to something else for gratification and pleasure. But common sense is not common practice. And even more so in our technologically driven, easy credit culture where almost everything can be made immediately available. There is something powerful about being able to anticipate the future in a positive way.

Quoting from the book:

Research has consistently shown how we derive more joy from things coming to us in the future than from things already received….In a study of more than 1000 people in the Netherlands, holiday-makers exhibited a bigger happiness boost in the weeks before their trip, rather than in the weeks afterward. And people generate even more emotional images of Christmas and New Year when they imagine those events in November than when they look back in January on their actual experiences. Researchers have suggested that we experience a “wrinkle in time” such that events that lie in the future provoke more emotion than identical events in the past.

So there is something uniquely human about looking to the future with positive anticipation. It is a powerful drive to get us to strive ahead and make positive change in our lives.

The ability to generate pleasant thoughts about the future is a hallmark of psychological health. What separates the suicidal from the rest of us is not an abundance of negative thoughts about the future, but rather an absence of positive ones. When healthy people find themselves in a funk, they tend to generate rosy visions of the future as a means of escaping their current malaise. Anticipating good things produces a distinct pattern of neural activation in the nucleus accumbens, a region of the brain linked to the experience of pleasure and reward.

Interestingly that same region of the brain reduces in activity when we receive what we are anticipating. So neurologically there is an actual reduction in feelings of pleasure and reward.

In our credit card culture we are strongly tempted to consume now and pay later. The push for that is continuing to grow with the arrival of ‘contactless payment’ facilities in cities around the world.
The pleasure of consumption is purest when we don’t have the experience of paying for it. That means anything we can do to separate payment from consumption can enhance the pleasure of the purchase. For most people that means consume immediately and pay later. But that has the huge downside of creating debt and debt is one of the biggest sources of tension and worry there is. As the authors say,

“If you carry a credit card balance that fills you with dread, the happiness boon of paying it off may be greater than just about anything else you could do with your money. The emotional benefits of paying off debt can even dwarf the benefits of building savings.”

5. By using money to invest in others.

“It is better to give than to receive” is a saying that practically every one has heard. It goes back a long way (see 4 Lessons We Learn From Christmas). Again that sounds like common sense, but once again common sense is not common practice.
When a representative sample of 600 Americans were studied, it was shown that the amount of money individuals devoted to themselves was unrelated to their overall level of happiness. The single factor that did predict happiness levels was the amount of money they gave away. In fact, according to the Gallup World Poll across 136 countries, donating to charity had a similar relationship to happiness as doubling household income.
There are 3 strategies that boost this impact of investing in others:
– when it is a choice
– when it makes a connection
– when it makes an impact.

Two examples from my own life illustrate that. I remember how as a child I was with my family somewhere in india waiting for a train. We had been given a large box of sweets and pastries. As is common in India there were many children living on the station platform who spent their time begging. A group of them came to us and we made a spontaneous decision to give them the box of sweets and pastries. The transformation in those children was dramatic. We made a choice, we made  a connection with them and the impact on  their level of happiness was a delight to see – so much so that I can remember it now almost 40 years later.

Another example form my time in India came from when I was on my elective from medical school. On my daily walks to the hospital I would pass a man living by the side of the road. He would tell me how cold he would find the winters and how much he needed a warm blanket. It was the simplest of things to do to buy that blanket for him. Once again that was a choice, a connection was made and seeing the impact on that man’s life was so encouraging to see. Again I can recall the joy and satisfaction that brought even though it is almost 30 years ago.

What are your thoughts on how money can buy happiness? How has this and the previous blog posts challenged the way you view money?

(See 3 Ways Money Can Buy Happiness and How Much Money Do You Actually Need?)