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Health & Balance

Spend Your Way to Happiness?

Money and happiness: 5 ways your spending style matters.
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Tip 2: Consider that many small pleasures might be better than a few big ones. continued...

Saving up for a big purchase may be admirable. But in terms of happiness, “We may be better off devoting our finite financial resources to purchasing frequent doses of lovely things, rather than infrequent doses of lovelier things,” Dunn says. Research shows that happiness is more closely aligned with the frequency of pleasures, as opposed to the intensity, according to her.

Since frequent, small pleasures tend to be different every time -- whether it’s a beer with friends or a new book -- we don’t adapt to them and become bored as quickly, Dunn says.

Tip 3: Spend on others and not yourself.

Some research suggests that it really is better to give.

A few years ago, Dunn did an experiment in which researchers fanned out across the University of British Columbia campus and handed students a $5 or $20 bill. The students were randomly assigned to spend the cash on themselves or others by the end of the day.

In the evening, those who had been told to spend on others reported feeling happier -- even if they spent only $5 -- than those assigned to buy for themselves.

The emotional rewards of social spending can even be detected on MRI brain scans. In a University of Oregon study, people were given a chance to donate money to a food bank. Others were forced to give to the food bank through a tax-like transfer. Volunteering the money activated brain areas typically associated with receiving rewards, but so did the mandatory giving.

As highly social creatures, much of our happiness hinges on the quality of our relationships, Dunn says. “Almost anything we do to improve our connections with others tends to improve our happiness as well, and that includes spending money.”

So the next time you buy a cookie, treat your pal, too.

Tip 4: Rent a dose of happiness.

In these lean times, it’s smart to be frugal. You can still enjoy something without having to own it, Lyubomirsky says, whether it’s a video, cabin hideaway, or a sports car.

If you love the thrill of driving a luxury car, rent one occasionally, she says. You’ll get the boost of pleasure, but not the hassles of changing the oil and tires or the burden of paying unpredictable repair costs.

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