money CAN buy me happiness (or THP: Chapter Seven)

(This is part seven in a series about The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin.  To start at the beginning, click here. )

Or can it?  Both Gretchen and I think, sometimes, it really can.

Gretchen begins this chapter with the results of multiple studies that show having more money does indeed increase a person’s happiness.  Basically, wealthier countries report being happier, and individuals report more happiness as their salaries increase.  Also, people are happier when they feel their wages are higher in comparison to others’ (although I suppose we can debate the merit of that until the cows come home).  If you think about it, one reason our happiness increases with an increase in wealth may be that we can worry about increasing our happiness, as opposed to having to worry about putting food on the table or making the rent payment.  OK, I’ll buy that.

We’ve all heard the adage, ‘Money can’t buy happiness.’  Gretchen posits that while money alone can’t buy happiness, it sure can help.  She presents three ‘factors’ that play a part of whether money can buy YOU happiness:

-‘It depends on what kind of person you are.’  Perhaps you have expensive taste, or love to travel or care about adding to a coin collection.  Or maybe you don’t care about any of those things, but would rather pad your retirement account or increase your charitable giving.  (Research shows that giving to charity actually causes an increase in wealth!)

-‘It depends on how you spend your money.’  Are your purchases contributing to your happiness?  Are you spending money to take your family on a trip, therefore creating happy memories?  Or, are you paying through the nose in a mortgage payment for a house you can’t really afford?  Maybe you bought an appliance or gadget that makes a chore easier, such as a good vacuum.

-‘It depends on how much money you have relative to the people around you and relative to your own experience.’  Is it important to you to ‘keep up with the Joneses?’ or are you simply thrilled to have a good job providing for your family?  Are you doing better relative to your parents?

Gretchen points out two really interesting points about money:  1.) having money is a lot like having good health; it’s not until it’s gone that we notice, and 2.) our biggest worries are often related to financial problems.  So true.

She used four tactics to use money to increase her happiness, including indulging in a modest splurge, buying needful things, spending out and giving something up.

She found she was ‘indulging’ in a few things already, such as her personal training sessions to increase her physical fitness, as well as choosing healthier, more expensive food options, such as a big salad instead of a burger and fries.  Additionally, she bought a nice pen for work.  (This made my heart happy.)  She said, “Finely made tools help make work a pleasure.”  Yes, yes they do.

She also legitimizes the ‘rush’ we get from the simple act of buying something.  It’s real, and while it might not be the best emotion to chase, it’s something many of us experience.  She points out that our purchases do in fact count as ‘growth,’ (albeit in my mind, loosely) and that we shouldn’t forget all the truly beneficial purchases we make all the time, such as new windows for our house.  (Gotcha!  This whole time, I’ll bet you were picturing Carrie Bradshaw buying another pair of shoes.)

Gretchen chose to indulge in a boxed set of beloved children’s books, knowing that just seeing them would make her happy.  I’m a lot like Gretchen, in that I get a lot of happiness out of the things I buy, simply by seeing them in the house. I love the ‘early bird gets the worm’ mug that I keep my makeup brushes in, because it reminds me that I gave the same mug to my best friend because we both like to get up early.  (Her husband broke it, along with other gifted mugs, and has since been forbidden to touch any of her mugs.)  I love the pineapple candlesticks my father saved from a friend’s yard sale, specifically thinking of me.  I love seeing the silly orange fish tail drain stopper in my bathtub, simply because it’s childish and makes me smile.

What would my modest splurge be?  Honestly, I/we really need a new computer, and while its price-tag is a little less modest, it’s something that would make me happy (especially if I can earn the money to buy it myself).  Perhaps a ‘modest splurge’ could be my recent landscaping project.  Both doing and completing that project made me very happy, and was also an investment in our home and property. With all the house projects I do, it’s hard not to think of them all as ‘modest splurges,’ since few of them are critical to our day-to-day functioning.  I suppose any purchases related to running tend to count as modest splurges, in that those things make me happy each time I use them, whether it’s because they’re highly functional or because they simply make me feel good or fast when I wear/use them.

Buying ‘needful things,’ is the second way Gretchen tried to increase her happiness.  Because she doesn’t particularly like shopping, Gretchen found herself constantly running out of toilet paper and batteries, because she was what she called an ‘underbuyer.’ Apparently, she hadn’t heard of Amazon Subscribe and Save.  (In her defense, it may not have been available at the time of the book’s writing.)  She says that both underbuyers and overbuyers are stressed by their purchases (or lack thereof).  I can tell you with a great deal of certainty that I am definitely an overbuyer.  Even before Amazon, we’ve always had a plethora of toilet paper and paper towels.  Also, I’m the kind of person who buys her next face wash before my current face wash is used up.  I also like to be efficient, therefore sometimes I buy something I don’t need YET simply because I’m at the appropriate store and don’t plan to return to said store before I need the item.

In addition to being an overbuyer, according to Gretchen, I’m also a ‘maximizer.’  Unlike ‘satisficers,’ who make their purchase/decision as soon as their criteria (no matter how stringent) are met, maximizers are the ones who drive themselves crazy, researching all the options before making their choice.  While I might make some spontaneous purchases (hello, random online jewelry shopping), I tend to do my research to ensure I make the right choice on big items, such as furniture or running shoes or electronics.

Another point I found really interesting was that we *think* we want more variety than we really do.  I find it interesting because it is very true in my life.  I’m the person who finds a tank top she likes, buys them in additional colors, but then only wears the one she went for in the first place.  My take-away: buy only one!  It’s not like I can’t go back for another if after time I feel like it would be a wise purchase. This is particularly true of my wardrobe.  I have a lot of nice clothes, but because I don’t work outside the home, I don’t tend to wear many of them more than once a season.  I actually DON’T LIKE having a closet full of clothes I don’t wear, so I’m slowly trying to pare down season by season.  I’m consciously not purchasing additional clothing (running/athletic/casual clothes don’t count), and getting rid of items I never wore/don’t see myself wearing again at the end of each season.  After switching my clothes this season, I was able to get rid of about a laundry basket’s worth of items, and only re-filled one Rubbermaid tub of summer clothes (instead of two) to put away.

The topic that hit home the most for me in this chapter was ‘spend out.’  Gretchen begins talking about how she is apt to ‘save’ things, such as choosing more-worn clothing than her newly purchased items, or using a toothbrush beyond its lifespan.  Recently, a friend of mine told me a story of her (her mom’s??) pink raincoat, and how she loved it and gazed at it and treasured it, yet never wore it.  Finally, she outgrew it, barely ever having enjoyed actually wearing it.  It makes me sad, and reminds me that I have a tendency to ‘pink raincoat’ things.  I wear my old college sweats over and over again instead of any of my actual clothes, because, where am I going that I need to look nice?  Or I purchase a special snack, only to let it sit in the pantry until it gets dangerously close to its expiration date.  Andrew and I realized we were ‘pink raincoating’ our bottle of Limoncello from a trip to Italy A LONG TIME AGO, and cracked that baby open with our friends (incidentally, including the pink raincoat friend) and enjoyed it immensely.  We currently have tins of foie gras and an unopened box of special cookies (to be paired with champagne) that are being pink-raincoated, and I intend to fix the situation pronto.  I don’t ever want to find that my beautiful pink raincoat no longer fits.

Thought of another way, pink-raincoating something is depriving yourself of ‘spending it out.’  Gretchen’s best example is that she finally started using the beautiful stationery she’d been gifted and was saving for…she didn’t know.  I’m so guilty of this kind of hoarding, and I consciously have to remind myself to actually use/eat/wear things sometimes.  And, perhaps if I take some time to think about it, maybe it’s also time to part with some of those items if I’m simply never going to use/eat/wear them.

Which is a perfect segue into her last point: ‘give something up.’  Don’t we all need to do that.  For her, she quit buying things for her newly appointed home office.  She’d had a blast decorating it, and realized she was one stapler away from going overboard.

I wonder what I should give up?  I probably should give up ‘spontaneous spending,’ i.e. anything that isn’t already in the budget.  It would be hard–I’m such an opportunist! In fact, I made a completely spontaneous purchase earlier this month–a HOMES bracelet–and it arrived yesterday and I just love it.  It features tiny stones inside a large bead from Lake Erie (WNY is my home now, and all) and the rest are bright teal smooth glass beads.  It’s unique and very ‘me’ and also has meaning since it’s from our own Great Lake.  Also, I like supporting small businesses, of which this is one.  Perhaps I’ll continue thinking about what I should give up…


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