Some Thoughts on Money Happiness

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Can Money Buy Happiness?

By Rick Kahler MS CFP®

Rick Kahler CFP

It turns out money can buy happiness, after all—sometimes. Having a good income and the security of money invested for the future don’t insure happiness, of course. They do, however, give us a foundation that can make it easier to find happiness.


Part of the secret to using money to foster happiness is knowing what to spend it on!

For example, spending money to lift your mood—the whole “retail therapy” idea—does not lead to happiness. It provides only a momentary sense of pleasure, which often in the long run fosters unhappiness. There are ways to spend money that do create happiness.

Here, based in part on several posts about money and happiness by Dr. Jeremy Dean on his site Psyblog, are a few of them:

1. Experiences. Research says you will find greater happiness spending your money on experiences rather than on stuff. Experiences live in our memories much longer and give us more emotional enjoyment than things, which can quickly lose their importance. In fact, just the anticipation of planning an experience often creates happiness. And if you want to take the happiness level up a notch, take a friend along with you.

2. Exercise: The number-one strategy people can use to feel better, increase energy levels, and reduce tension is exercise. Exercising can mean spending money on a gym membership, a personal trainer, and equipment. However, exercising can also be inexpensive. Walking, for example, requires little more than a pair of good walking shoes and—at least here in South Dakota—a warm winter coat.

3. Stuff that will provide you experiences: Buying things that create or are necessary for experiences count as happiness spending. Music is an experience that research says is a mood enhancer; even sad music can bring pleasure. Spending money on music might mean buying concert tickets, but it could also mean buying recordings, an iPod, smart-phone, speakers, and similar equipment.

4. Stuff that supports doing what you’re good at; like medicine: What are you good at and really enjoy? PsyBlog says spending money for things you excel at typically creates happiness. A set of golf clubs and a budget for green fees could be a great purchase if you’re good at golf—or even if you aren’t so good at the game but you enjoy it for the exercise and time with friends. The same goes for buying things to support hobbies, such as art supplies, garden plants, or quilting fabrics. Maybe you enjoy helping others, so charitable giving or spending money on volunteer opportunities would increase your happiness. I love researching almost anything, so spending money on research data can be a mood lifter for me.

5. Coaching/Therapy: Few things are more valuable for long-term happiness than hiring a good coach or therapist. Research shows talk therapy to be as effective as or better than antidepressants. In my co-authored book, Conscious Finance, I describe how spending $80,000 on therapy was the best investment I ever made in my own happiness and well-being.

6. Meditation: The biggest happiness bang for your buck might come from meditation. It isn’t free, but it’s very inexpensive. You will need to attend a class or buy an instructional video or book. I recommend “Open Heart, Open Mind” by Thomas Keating, but there are many others.





While we know that money by itself isn’t a source of happiness, we also know that having enough money to comfortably meet our basic needs does make us happier. In addition, we can consciously choose to spend in ways that buy happiness. Such investments may not provide financial returns, but they can provide significant happiness returns.


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3 Responses

  1. Retail therapy

    Think a new purchase will cheer you up?

    Cash is king in this case so your credit card balance won’t spiral out of control. Plus, keep in mind that the positive feeling you get from buying something is usually short-lived.

    Dr. Mona



    Recently a ME-P reader suggested I again write about the relationship between giving and happiness, noting that research shows people who give to charity are happier. One such study from Harvard Business School in 2009 is titled “Feeling Good About Giving.” It not only found a link between giving and happiness, but highlighted some thought-provoking issues about the ways charities ask for donations.

    Yet the question of whether pro-social spending (i.e., donating to charitable causes) promotes happiness is far from a simple one. Many times, giving is complicated by guilt, shame, and obligation.

    I remember attending a luncheon hosted by a local charity to explain a building project it was undertaking. I had never given to this particular organization, but I supported the project. The organizers described it in detail and asked supporters to contribute monthly payments over a five-year period.

    Impressed with the project, I decided to pledge $250 a month. This would add up to what to me was a substantial gift of $15,000. I felt happy about my choice to give this amount to a project I really believed in.

    If that had been the end of it, everyone would have been happy, but unfortunately it wasn’t. Just before we were asked to fill out a card with our pledges, table hosts handed out personalized envelopes to each person. These contained suggested contribution amounts. I opened the envelope to find my suggested pledge was $1,667. It took me several seconds to realize this wasn’t an annual or a five-year total; it was the monthly pledge. I was speechless.

    My feeling of happiness over what I viewed as a generous contribution immediately vanished. I was now feeling guilt and shame. I felt that if I were to offer $250 a month when the expectation was $1,667, my gift would not be appreciated and I would also be perceived as stingy and greedy.

    When the time came to make our pledges, I put down “$0.” What had been a gift freely given had become an obligation, and an insufficient one at that.

    Over the years, I have come to realize that giving, like other forms of spending, can be done for many reasons, some of which we aren’t even consciously aware of. To help make more conscious choices about giving to either charities or individuals, you might consider asking yourself the following questions:

    1. If a charity is involved, is it legitimate and well-run? (One source for checking is
    2. How will I feel if I make this gift? Satisfied? Joyful? Resentful? Taken advantage of?
    3. Will this gift help someone solve a problem or take responsibility for solving the problem away from them?
    4. Will this gift encourage the recipient’s independence or foster dependence?
    5. Am I giving freely or out of guilt or obligation?
    6. What might be the consequences if I make this gift? If I don’t?
    7. Am I giving out of a genuine desire to help or to get attention and recognition for myself?
    8. Am I feeling pressured or rushed into an answer? Do I need some time to think before I decide?
    9. Are there other ways I might help instead of giving money?
    10. Will this gift foster closeness between the recipient and me or create a barrier between us?

    Asking questions like these can help us clarify our motivations around giving and make our decisions more consciously. This makes it more likely that our giving will promote happiness and satisfaction for ourselves. Equally important, it increases the likelihood that our giving will promote happiness and well-being for the recipients.

    Rick Kahler MS CFP®


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