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Spend Your Way to Happiness?

Money and happiness: 5 ways your spending style matters.

Tip 3: Spend on others and not yourself. continued...

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.

Tip 5: When you buy, think about what you’re not thinking about.

Often, people make purchases the way some lovers enter a hasty marriage -- in a rosy glow of imagination, with little realistic thought of the beloved’s shortcomings.

So people who want to buy a lakeside cabin will focus on the peace and quiet, gorgeous sunsets, and good fishing, Dunn says. What they don't consider: buzzing insects, late-night calls about plumbing disasters, and endless drives home after a weekend at the cabin, with tired and cranky children scratching mosquito bites. And yet, such things will affect the owners’ happiness.

It’s a common pitfall. We simply don’t see the future in fine detail, and the further away the event lies in time, the more abstract our imaginings, Dunn says.

So before buying something major, try to consider the less obvious cost, including how a purchase might affect your time. “Happiness is often in the details," Dunn says.

Reviewed on October 12, 2010

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