Everyone who tells you that money can’t buy happiness is wrong.
Money CAN buy happiness. The trick is to spend it right.
Sounds shallow, right? Like maybe you think I’m talking about the kind of “money can buy happiness” where a shopping spree is an act of avoidance to deal with a broken heart or a person’s ownership of a crew-sized yacht is intended to compensate for emotional (or physical) shortcomings. The kind of “I spend, therefore I’m happy” mentality.
No, I’m talking about a practical application of the concept that money can buy happiness: the kind that creates just a little bit of breathing room for you to not have to think about a problem anymore – or at least, think about it less.
The fact that money can, indeed, buy happiness has been a revelation for me lately, but it’s not a new one – in fact, the idea wasn’t even originally mine. I stumbled across it while reading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project last year and loved the concept. We’ve always been told that money can’t buy happiness, but Gretchen debunks that theory with conditional statements: who you are, how you spend and how much you spend all contribute to the end result of happiness. I agree with all the above, but I’ve also discovered a daily, practical approach to that is based in the what, why and how of spending money that will produce the end result of happiness: naming a problem (what), identifying the reason for it (why) and determining whether money will help solve it (how). More importantly, though, I’ve discovered a very simple and yet profound revelation about money: That it can solve problems. And that sometimes, the very best way to solve a problem is to throw money at it.
Money can solve problems.
Last year when I was living with boys, we had a shortage of space in our home and an abundance of boy clothes – socks, T-shirts, pants, shoes, socks, football gear, socks and…more socks*. All these clothes fit haphazardly at best into two dressers, one of which was dedicated to the 10-year old, who, with his amazingly creative brain and free spirit, was often disinclined to do chores** and seemed to especially loathe the task of putting away his clothes. Which meant that in the weekly clean sweep of their room and the NEVER. ENDING. mountains of laundry that ensued as a result***, probably 5 washes out of 7 included clothes that were already clean but not put away. Why? Because in his dresser that was suited for a baby at best and not a growing boy, there was simply nowhere for them to go.
*The eventual purging of the many, many socks – torn ones, holey ones, socks full of sand and socks without mates – was, in itself, a revelation. And so very freeing.
**Understandably – in favor of drumming, on everything, or riding bikes, or playing video games, or basically anything that didn’t involve chores, you know, because he was 10.
***Lack of space, and two teens and their football clothes…ew.
Which meant that we spent a considerable amount of time* each week sorting, folding, re-folding, tumble drying, washing, re-washing and generally maneuvering around the laundry, shifting it from one surface to the next just so we could fall into the couch at the end of the day, only to do it all over again the next.
But for some reason, to me, there never seemed to be “enough money” to buy a bigger dresser. It wasn’t that we didn’t have enough – it was that I chose not to spend it. I didn’t make it a priority to find room in the budget or space in the house to solve a problem that was making me crazy EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. And really?! I couldn’t find $150 in our household budget for a nice dresser (or less for a deal on Craigslist) in order to regain probably 3+ hours of my life each week?! At the very least, you would have thought that my time and brain space free of laundry-related thoughts would have been well worth the time to make it happen, but I was stymied by the thought of the expenditure.
THIS is exactly what I’m talking about when I say throw money at the problem: A bigger dresser would have solved the problem of space (and likely saved some of my sanity). Money can’t buy happiness, but it can certainly contribute to a happier state of being. Because, yeah, if we’d had a bigger dresser, the 10-year old still would have been accountable for his chores, and it’s possible they still wouldn’t have been done – but it would have been easier to hold him to putting away his clothes if he didn’t have to fight a lack of space and organization to do it every day. Money can buy happiness when spent wisely, and a dresser is a wise purchase with a practical use. I wish I could have seen this so clearly then, but hindsight’s 20/20 – and in the future, I know I’d rather spend a lot to have a little less laundry.
Money can buy motivation.
I’ve had a second revelation about money recently, as I’ve been going to the gym quite regularly. I used to be the girl wearing sweats and my old sorority shirt at the gym, but since I’ve been Getting Serious*, I’ve realized how impractical that get-up is. You can’t side plank in sweats and a tee – you catch yourself on your clothes and wreck your form. Also, you look sloppy, and in a real gym** you don’t want to look sloppy – sweaty, fine, but not sloppy. So I’ve been buying actual “gym clothes” – real athletic gear designed for performance. But as I’m a known failure at keeping resolutions***, I’ve been loathe to spend too much money on attire for fear of having a pile of expensive, brightly-colored Spandex sitting neatly in a drawer and nothing to show for it except an empty bank account.
*Serious enough to warrant a capital G AND a capital S.
**I.e., not your apartment complex gym. I have no idea why I’ve resisted a “real gym” all these years – it makes ALL the difference.
But the trouble with that attitude is that in my effort to be frugal and my wariness about my ability to continue to commit to this process of Getting Serious, I’ve been wearing some clothes that – while a significant improvement over previous exercise attire – simply don’t quite fit. And by “don’t quite fit” I mean MY PANTS WERE COMING OFF in the midst of my metabolic circuit – mountain climbers, to be exact, with my ass in the air for all to see, including the many (cute) male trainers at my gym. And do you know what would make me happier about working out? IF MY PANTS WOULDN’T COME OFF. And do you know WHY they were coming off? Because I tried to save a little by buying something that would get me by instead of spending toward something that would get me moving.
So in this case, money really would solve the problem, because I am not motivated to go back to the gym when I think I’m going to spend more energy readjusting my ill-fitting attire than actually exercising, but I am motivated to continue my workout when my performance gear allows me to do just that: perform. Spending – no, investing – in clothing that allows me to do the work is well worth every penny.
And as a matter of fact, that investment has been well worth it, because every day that I’m dressed appropriately at the gym to do the work, I work harder – and in the physical results of that hard work, I’ve been considerably happier.
I don’t believe that money solves all problems, or that it truly “buys” happiness, and I’m certainly cognizant of my abundance that allows me to even make decisions to spend a little more where appropriate. My approach isn’t to spend indulgently – it’s to recognize when making the right expenditures a priority over others would make a difference.
When I look at my and Gretchen’s different approach on the same subject, I see that the principle is the same: The money you spend that makes you feel good ends up being the money that works for you. And when it works for you, you’re likely to be happier.
At the end of the day, isn’t that why you work for your money?