Hacks to Boost Your Happiness
Researchers are finding behaviors and goals that make for a more satisfying life
This column is normally all about saving and spending wisely. But isn’t the greater goal of managing our finances to produce happiness?
If the pursuit of happiness were an Olympic event, the United States would be nowhere near the medal ceremony. In the latest World Happiness Report, the U.S. ranked 19th among more than 150 countries. (For those open to the expat life, Finland, Denmark and Norway held the top three spots.)
Stagnant wages and a widening income gap jump out as two powerful stress points for American households. But the notion that a person’s life would be happier if they had more money only works up to a point.
Research from two Nobel laureates finds that once our annual income reaches a certain level – about $88,000 in 2019 dollars – earning more doesn’t ratchet up the everyday emotions that make us happy, though earning more does boost our longer-term notion of life satisfaction.
Making more money is not entirely within our control. But there are all sorts of things we can do to boost our happiness. Some may sound obvious, but it’s nice to know they’ve been validated by academic researchers.
Eight hacks to boost your happiness
Invest in relationships. Starting in 1938, researchers set out to track more than 700 (then young) men over the course of their lives to explore what drove happiness. The study continued into this decade – tracking participants in their 90s – and is now focusing on the children of the original participants. Regardless of background, the defining driver of happiness was having good relationships. A TED talk by the director of the happiness study went viral.
Focus more on time, not money. When researchers asked thousands of Americans to choose between having more time or more money, nearly two-thirds chose money. But when put through a series of questions to measure a self-reported sense of happiness, it was the folks who chose more time who were happier.
Related research finds that spending on goods and services that give us more time helps boost happiness. Maybe that’s take-out a few times a week or cleaning help. This doesn’t need to be a budget buster; the peak payoff in spending-to-save-time was $200 monthly.
Spend on others. In a study, people were given $5 and told to spend it. Those that were given the instruction to spend it on someone else (rather than themselves) reported higher levels of happiness.
Donate with a specific goal. People who donate tend to be happier. And people who direct their charity to specific programs and initiatives, rather than to a general fund, derive more meaning from it.
Buy experiences, not things. Not just for yourself, but for others, too. When we gift experiences it deepens our relationships more than a physical gift.
Let go of the past. People who continue to chew over what has happened are more anxious and dissatisfied with their lives than people who tend to focus on their future.
Choose a home with some green space. A recent survey of more than 13,000 Europeans turned up the somewhat surprising (for Americans, at least) finding that renters were no less happy than owners. One of the elements that moved the happiness needle for everyone was having a balcony or yard.
Play vacation on the weekend. People who were encouraged on Friday to treat the coming weekend as a vacation – just a mindset nudge – came back to work on Monday happier than the folks who weren’t given the vacation prompt.