Yes, money can make you happier, says Mike Norton

MikeNortonLike me, you’ve probably read about research showing that money doesn’t make us happy (above a certain baseline). In fact, household income in the US has gone up for the last 30 years while life satisfaction has decreased.

But Mike Norton, a professor at Harvard Business School, has done a lot of research to show that in fact, money CAN make you happier if you spend it the right way. I was so inspired by reading about it that I went to meet him when I was thinking about starting Happier. I can report that in addition to being really smart he is also just awesome.

Happy MoneyI recently interviewed Mike about what makes him happier and how we can spend money in ways that makes us more satisfied. He also has a new book called Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, which he co-authored with Elizabeth Dunn. It’s decidedly unboring and has inspired me to think about and change some of the ways I prioritize spending money.

So, Mike, what makes you happier?
Ideas! Nothing is more fun than meeting new people and coming up with new ideas about how “the humans” (as we social scientists call them) work. And the very best ideas are those that have the potential to give people guidance on how to inject more happiness into their lives – a topic my co-author Liz Dunn and I have been studying for a decade now.

You’ve studied money and happiness for a long time now. What’s the biggest myth people believe about how money can make them happy?
The biggest myth is also the most pervasive and hardest to shake: more is better. Research shows that after people hit a certain amount of income (some estimates say around $75,000 a year), the next few thousand bucks really doesn’t affect their day to day happiness all that much. What we suggest people should think is not “Do I have enough money to be happy?” but rather “Am I using the money I have now in the best way to wring the most happiness from every dollar?”

If I have $20 to spend, what would you suggest I do spend it on to feel happier?
This one is easy. Buy an experience for someone you care about, and, geez, since that person is going, why not tag along with them? Not only does spending our money on others make us happier than spending on ourselves, but buying experiences makes us much happier than buying stuff. And spending time with loved ones is a huge happiness booster.

What’s the last thing you purchased that made you happier?
The last thing I purchased that made me happier was actually something I didn’t purchase. I got all wrapped up in wanting to buy a new fancy flat screen TV, spent hours comparing models, and then remembered my own advice – quit buying stuff. In fact one of the best ways to use your money to get happy is simply to stop using it to buy stuff that doesn’t pay off in happiness. I can’t say I always catch myself before I click ‘Buy,” though.

 

Research shows trying to be happy makes you unhappy — and we agree!

A few days ago I opened my inbox to find a dozen emails from worried friends. They all sounded a bit like this:

Hey, just saw this article about how trying to be happy is actually making people miserable. You should read it. Worried about how this will reflect on what you guys are doing with Happier.

Here’s the article everyone was sending me: The Problem With Happiness.

It talks about several studies in which researchers showed that trying to be happy is actually making people less happy. For example:

In one study, people were asked a number of questions about how much they value happiness and how much they believe it is important to work toward being happy. People putting the greatest emphasis on being happy reported 50% less frequent positive emotions, 35% less satisfaction about their life, and 75% more depressive symptoms than people that had their priorities elsewhere.

I might have surprised my worried friends when I wrote back to each of them to say that actually, I couldn’t agree with the article more. You see, we created Happier based on the idea that chasing some big nirvana state of happiness does absolutely nothing to make us happier — and sometimes, like researchers have shown, achieves the opposite.

Focusing on small happy moments in every day life and appreciating them, connecting with friends and people you care about, doing nice things for others, spending time with positive people — these are the behaviors that multiple studies have shown actually do make people happier, more positive and optimistic. At Happier, our mission is to inspire millions of people to do just that and hearing from so many of our users about how doing this makes them happier is more powerful than any research study I can imagine.

 

 

 

How to be happier: Love more.

howtobehappier2A 75-year study that followed 268 male Harvard graduates since 1938 has found a powerful connection between the warmth of your relationships and your happiness as you age.

Warm childhood relations with fathers correlated with lower rates of adult anxiety, greater enjoyment of vacations, and increased “life satisfaction” at age 75.

(The study’s data also showed that men who had warm relationships with their parents early on in their lives made more money and did better at work when they were older than those who had poor relationships.)

The lead researcher of the study is quoted as saying: “The Grant Study points … to a straightforward five-word conclusion: ‘Happiness is love. Full stop.”

So here’s a happier challenge for your Monday: Find a way, however small or big, to tell someone important in your life you love them. Leave a sweet note for your spouse. Send a thank you text or email to your friend. Find a card that will make your mom or dad smile and send it to them without an occasion. Surprise your kids with a Monday night fun activity (that can be as simple as playing a game together or going out for ice cream). What you do doesn’t matter as much as letting the people you love know that in some way.

How to be happier: Stop multitasking.

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If you think you’re a multitasking hero, think again. When you switch away from what you’re doing to do something else – like say, answer an email during a meeting, which we’ve all done – you’re increasing the time it will take you to finish your primary activity by 25 percent.

Getting stuff done is an awesome feeling — it makes you happier. So here’s something to try this Monday:

Focus on doing just one thing at a time.

Don’t check your email while you’re working on something else. If you need to take a call step away from your computer. If you’re going out to grab coffee let yourself have a few minutes to just drink the coffee, not check email or talk on the phone at the same time. Give multitasking a break and see how you feel. It might turn out you get more done.

How to be happier: Bring out your inner sports fan

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Remember the last time you cheered for your fave team? Most likely you felt pretty good and energized. Turns out bringing out your inner sports fan actually makes you happier. (Yes, even if your team loses.) According to a recent article in the New York Times:

A growing body of scientific research and some compelling empirical evidence suggest that sports fans are less prone to depression and alienation.

Now there’s some inspiration to spend a few hours getting your blood flowing, fists pumping and endorphins charging up!

Mondays made happier: Go see a friend!

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Here’s something really simple you can do to instantly be happier: Go see a friend. If you can’t see them in person, give them a call.

We probably don’t need to tell you that spending time with friends makes you happier but new research shows just how important that is:

…low social interaction has the equivalent lifespan impact as smoking 15 cigarettes daily, or being a raging alcoholic. Cutting yourself off from others is worse, even, than inactivity. And twice as bad as obesity.

Can you find a half hour to catch up with a friend for coffee today? If not, even making plans to see them can boost your (and probably their) happiness.

 

Smile, it’s good for you!

You’ve probably heard that smiling can positively affect your mood, right? Well there’s some new research to confirm that something as simple as a smile can impact how you feel:

A study published in the journal Psychological Science in November found that people who smiled after engaging in stress-inducing tasks showed a greater reduction in heart rate than people who maintained a neutral facial expression.

A reduced heart rate means lower stress and anxiety, both of which we would all like to feel less than more. It also turns out that even a fake smile can have significant benefits, although studies have shown that when you actually find something to smile about, they are greater.

 

 

Yes, you can use email to be happier. No, really.

Chances are you don’t think of email as something that makes you happier. Most of us get too much of it, send too much of it, and check it way too often. It’s a stress-pit.

But here’s something you can do to hate your inbox a bit less and actually feel happier:

Send a nice thank you email to someone you care about — a friend, family member, colleague, anyone who has done something you appreciate. We’re willing to guarantee that it will make them smile and writing it will make you happier.

Studies have shown that staying connected to your close social network is a huge contributor to happiness and what better way to keep that connection than with a quick thank you email. (Especially when it comes on a Monday, not everyone’s favorite day.)

Have a happier Monday!

 

Think you’re too busy? It’s probably making you happier.

If you feel like you’re always busy, turns out that might be a very good thing. New research has shown that people who are busy tend to be happier.

When given a choice study participants chose to do nothing but needed only a tiny motivation – like a piece of candy – to do something. And it turned out that they were happier once they stopped being idle. “It’s as if people understand that being busy will keep them happier, but they need an excuse of some kind.”

There’s a slight catch though: While being busy makes you happier, feeling rushed doesn’t. We seem to like some time pressure but the stress of endless impending deadlines makes us, well, unhappier.