4 Research-Backed Ways To Use Your Money To Buy Happiness

How to better use your money to help buy happiness.

woman holding credit card Krakenimages.com/ Shutterstock

Would winning the lottery bring you happiness?

A study was conducted to find out the answer to this question. It was dedicated to finding the effects of winning the lottery and paralysis due to accidents on happiness.

Contrary to what one might expect, the people who won the lottery weren’t significantly happier after winning the lottery. Some even reported lower levels of happiness after a pile of cash entered their lives. And people who were paralyzed were not as unhappy as one might expect.


After significant time had elapsed, people’s happiness levels always came back to their baseline. This happens due to a phenomenon that has been named Hedonic Treadmill. The hedonic treadmill, also known as hedonic adaptation, is the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes.

RELATED: 48 Realistic Laws Of Happiness To Manifest A Truly Content Life

Many people try to buy happiness using money by striving to acquire significant positive changes in life — like buying a big house or an expensive car — failing to understand that they’re not buying sustainable happiness but chasing temporary highs. I’m not saying we mustn’t buy houses and cars. But we have to understand the concept of hedonic adaptation and realize that chasing temporary highs won’t bring true happiness.


A few years ago, I was talking to a friend who was crying her eyes out because her relationship was crumbling. I suggested she go easy on herself and start doing things she loves. I asked her, "What do you love to do?" She said "shopping." Right then, I knew that it would be difficult for misery to leave her. She was focused on the wrong way to buy happiness.

However, if used wisely, money can buy us happiness. Money can only buy us happiness if instead of chasing highs, we use it to push the levels of our baseline happiness to higher levels. Here are some research-backed ways that may teach you how to do that.

RELATED: 4 Unsexy Habits That Will Eventually Make You Rich

Here are 4 research-backed ways to use your money to buy happiness:

1. Buy stories to tell, not things to show off

Anyone who knows me knows that I can’t stop talking about the best experiences of my life if I get started — like my life-changing trek to the lake of skeletons at the height of over 15,000 feet or the time I did Vipassana. It’s because, before anything else in the world, we’re storytellers. Even research tells us that great experiences make people happier.


It’s because, "Look, this happened to me!" is usually much more interesting than, "Look, I bought this."

Experiences turn you into a storyteller, and things turn you into a showcase. Which one would you rather be? While people may be rational here and choose to be a storyteller over a showcase, people don’t often act like that. People act like showcases, acquiring more and more things to score points in some made-up game.

Chasing highs won’t make you happier. So use your money to buy experiences. Go for a week-long trek. Opt for a meditation retreat. Save money and jump out of a freaking plane. The experiences you think will get you to retell the stories millions of times — go for them. Be a storyteller. Don’t be a showcase.

"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms." — Muriel Rukeyser


2. Buy which cannot be bought: time

Unless a salesman knocks on your door to sell you a time machine, you can’t literally buy time. However, you can get the next best thing. You can use money to save your time, which is as good as — if not better — than buying time.

Research has shown that people who value time over money are happier than their counterparts. It makes all the sense in the world. If you have more time, you can use it to do the things you love. Unfortunately, people are often reluctant to spend money even if it saves them time.

To buy time, delegation is the name of the game. Whatever you must do that you think can be handled by someone else, try to delegate.

So go ahead and hire a housekeeper or invest in a virtual assistant or spend that few extra bucks to get groceries delivered instead of going to the store. And use the time that you save to do things that make you happy.


RELATED: 3 Lessons On Living Better From The Three Happiest Countries In The World

3. Relieve financial anxiety and live below your means

This is something I learned from people much, much smarter than me. Well, everything I’ve learned is from people much smarter than me. But this has to be one of my favorites.

We live in a world where living in debt is normal. Financial anxiety is mundane, almost romanticized. We’re always reaching out for more than we can pay for. 

Research shows that money is the most significant source of stress for people. Money is associated with heart attacks, migraines, depression, anxiety, disrupted sleep, ulcers and even digestive issues.


And lack of income is often not the problem. It’s just that we spend money mindlessly. Usually, for a lost cause. Will Smith summed it up better than I ever could: "We end up spending money we don’t have, to buy things we don’t need, to impress people we don’t like."

People have this obsessive need to buy stuff and possess more. People use money to inflate their egos and not to improve their life.

A few months ago, I had the same mindset about money. I didn’t hesitate from buying something on credit. I didn’t think before spending money. But, I’ve now started to believe in the principle of living below one’s means. It’s the sanest thing I’ve ever heard yet it’s also the rarest thing I’ve seen practiced in real life. And that’s just sad.

RELATED: What 95% Of People Don’t Understand About Happiness


4. Spend on others

I do think about the causal association of this. Maybe it’s people who are already happy that are comfortable spending on others. Perhaps spending on others really can make you happy. Research tends to nudge toward the latter — spending money on others does, in fact, bring happiness.

I like to believe it’s because it reinforces one of the fundamental foundations of human happiness, that is — to belong. To be happy, we need to belong. We need friends. We need family.

Spending money on others reinforces the feeling of camaraderie, which is why it brings us happiness. So loosen your purse strings and spend some money to make people around you happier. Doing that will make you happier too. It’s a win-win.

To sum up:

Money can buy happiness. However, the ways in which money may bring you happiness are not easy to follow. In fact, when you think about it, there are not many things harder than spending money wisely. However, for the sake of our happiness, we must strive to spend our hard-earned money in better ways.

  1. Buy experiences and not things. Experiences turn you into a storyteller. Things turn you into a showcase. What would you prefer to be?
  2. Buy time by delegation, and use the time you save to do things that bring you happiness.
  3. Use money to get rid of financial anxiety. Make 'living below your means' your mantra.
  4. Spend on others. This will reinforce a sense of belonging within you, which is one of the core pillars of happiness.

RELATED: 6 Things I'm Doing Instead Of Investing That Will Make More Money

Akshad Singi, M.D. has been published in Better Humans, Mind Cafe, and more.