Before discussing how to buy happiness, let us see if happiness can indeed be bought. One school of thought says it can – the belief is that buying happiness is a question of how you spend your money. It could be a new book or a meal at a restaurant or a holiday on the beach or a car or a new house. Anything that gives you happiness when you spend your money. You can use money to ensure financial security for your old age, or have health insurance or pay off debts or put money into savings – all these measures cut down on your stress levels and to that extent make you feel happier. So in a way we can say that money does help to “buy” happiness or if not that then at least some peace of mind.

Those who spend money on others

However, money can buy happiness only if it “is spent correctly”. An experiment run by Michael Norton, an Associate Professor and Psychologist at HBS,  in the University of British Columbia, Canada and in Uganda – two countries that are culturally, income-wise, demographically very dissimilar – showed that those who spent money on others were a lot happier than those who spent it on themselves.

This was seen to be so even when the experiment was repeated in the workplace and then again among members of a sports team. The study also showed that the amount of money spent was not germane to the issue, neither was the actual reason it was spent. People just felt happier when they “bought” happiness for others, whether for a contribution to their medical treatment or to buy an expensive pair of shoes or a lower-priced stationery item. Money given to charities also brought happiness to the giver.

When used to buy “experiences”

Another point of view is that money gives happiness and joy when it is used to buy “experiences”. Our lives are composed of our memories and these memories are born of our experiences. When we have an experience that lifts us up and makes life great for us we feel good and happy. The experience of seeing a smile on someone’s face because you have given them something or bought a gift for them, or the experience of knowing that your money has enabled a child to go to school or has helped feed a hungry person or saved someone from a life-threatening illness, is a warm-warming one. It is much greater than buying yourself an expensive piece of jewellery or a set of crystal wine-glasses.

Spending money on experiences also include activities like buying gear and going for a hike or buying a surfboard and going surfing on the seas or going on a picnic with a hamper full of things to eat. The experience of indulging in these activities contributes to happiness and if you do it with others – such that you spend money on their activities too – it increases your enjoyment many times over.

Elizabeth Dunn, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of British Columbia, Canada believes that change is a large part of buying happiness. She says that humans like change, so if you want to feel happy, go out and try something new- take company along and the money you spend on them will make you feel that you are on top of the world.