19 Do Money and “Stuff” Really Make You Happy?

In yesterday’s blog post we talked about the importance of living with a purpose for your spiritual health and how it all comes back to living a happy and fulfilled life. Today I want to talk about what doesn’t make most people happy. We’ve talked a lot so far about why it’s important to live with purpose, and a big part of it is because it makes you feel happier and more content.

What doesn’t make people happy is money and more material possessions. In fact, quite the opposite seems to be true. Surprised? Yes, of course there’s a time when a little extra cash and a more reliable car increases your happiness and decreases your stress and worries. There’s a threshold below which money and material possessions do make us happier, and that threshold for a family is about $75,000. Once that level is reached, where we live somewhat comfortably and don’t have to worry about having food in the fridge and a roof over our head, something interesting happens. From there on out, more money and more possessions simply gives us more “stuff” to worry about. In those cases, an increase in material and monetary possessions doesn’t increase happiness.

Deep down you already know this. We remember the fun trips we took as kids or the time we got tickets to see a concert much more vividly than a pile of soon-forgotten presents under the tree. Yes, there are exceptions like the year you got the new bike, but that’s when there was purpose and meaning attached to the material gift. There is plenty of evidence that spending your money on life experiences, rather than material goods, will make you happier. This is because we remember the experience much longer than the initial excitement of getting or buying something. Your happiness is also likely to be higher if you spend your money on other people, strengthening personal relationships, or you give money to causes which are aligned with your values.

According to Cornell University psychology professor Thomas Gilovich “People think that experiences are only going to provide temporary happiness, but they actually provide both more happiness and more lasting value. And yet we still keep on buying material things,” he says, “because they’re tangible and we think we can keep on using them. Experiences, on the other hand, tend to meet more of our underlying psychological needs. They’re often shared with other people, giving us a greater sense of connection, and they form a bigger part of our sense of identity. If you’ve climbed in the Himalayas, that’s something you’ll always remember and talk about, long after all your favorite gadgets have gone to the landfill.”

When we want to increase our overall happiness and well being a goal to accumulate as much money and stuff as possible obviously isn’t the answer. Instead, focus on having the basic needs covered so you don’t have to worry too much, and then shift your focus to experiences and relationships. That’s the true key to leading a happy and fulfilled life.

It also means focusing on finding purpose in what you do. In addition to financial goals, start making goals for relationships and experiences. Instead of focusing on that next big promotion or bonus check, or how you’ll afford a new car, spend your time and energy on the things and people that are important for you. Start living with purpose and start making a difference. That’s what will increase your own happiness and well being as well as that of those around you.

Exercise: List five experiences you want to have for yourself and/or your family.

About Karen

Karen Karsten, CPCC, CAC, has had several business careers, in government, finance, retail and publishing. Each career was a building block that helped her create the life she has now as a coach, writer and executive director of Rich Chicks and Creative Principle of Think You Can LLC.

Her companies, Think You Can (www.thinkyoucan.net) and Rich Chicks (www.richchicks.org) both explore the magic of prosperity and creating clarity about life values. Karen has total faith in the magic of belief. Notice how that works either way: belief of magic, magic of belief. Magic is there—in you, too. Take a moment right now and honor the magic in you.

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