“Money can’t buy happiness.”

Well I don’t know about you, but if I had a nickle for every time I’ve heard that phrase I think I would have money to buy the high horse right out from under it. That and a new outfit, because my closet could use a good update.

In all seriousness, this phrase can be very misleading. Of course it makes literal sense; you can’t trade money in for an emotion. But the phrase is generally used to make the point that money can only buy material things, and that true happiness has to come from somewhere else.

But even so, I beg to differ. Although I think it’s a start. What if instead the phrase was, “If money can’t buy happiness, you’re not spending it right”. Now that’s a philosophy I can stand behind, and here’s why.

Saving Up Vs. Impulse Buying

When I was 8 or 9 years old we decided to sell our old suburban and upgrade (or downgrade, depending on how you look at it) to our beloved, white, 12-seater van. I remember the buyer coming to our door with a huge smile. I mean honestly, this guy just looked like the epitome of genuine happiness. My dad spoke with him for a while, they made their transaction, and the man drove off with our suburban. After he left my dad looked at me and asked, “Do you know why that man was so happy?” I said I didn’t. He said, “Because he knows how to pay for things in cash.”

With credit cards being such a popular transaction these days, it’s so easy to convince yourself that you can buy what you want, when you want, and pay later. And it seems logical that if you buy something in the same moment that you want it, you will be happiest. But actually, this is not the case.

Studies show that waiting for something, wanting something, and looking forward to something actually produces more dopamine than the actual purchasing of that something. Think of it like a kid at Christmas time. Is it harder to go to sleep on Christmas Eve, with the excitement of wanting gifts and looking forward to them, or the night after Christmas once they’ve opened all the presents?

Learning to save up for things that you want, and working hard to really earn them will bring you more happiness than the actual buying.

More Expensive Does Not Equal More Happy

I’d like to win the lottery or get one of those giant checks from Ellen just as much as the next person. I mean who wouldn’t want to be an instant millionaire? Not having to worry about gas prices, or coupons, or whether I want the jeans or the jacket (just get both, duh). Wouldn’t life be so much easier, and happier?

Again, the answer is no. A study done on the lottery showed that winners reported being just as happy before getting the prize money as they were after. Sure, there is the initial excitement of being able to buy expensive things that you were only ever allowed to drool over (from a distance of course, because apparently there’s a “you drool, you buy” policy that is often learned the hard way). But after a while, you grow accustomed to the new lifestyle. The thrill subsides and and soon enough you’re back to your previous happiness level.

So if cost doesn’t affect happiness, does that mean you can be just as happy with a 99 cent cone from Macey’s as you could with a $19.99 Triple Chocolate Twist Creme de la Creme a la Mode? If you’re just craving an sugary ice cream treat, then I would argue most definitely.

Purchasing Experience

So if buying on a whim doesn’t make you happy, and buying something costly doesn’t make you happy, then what can you buy that will make you happy? Experience.

When it comes right down to it, material stuff is just that. Stuff. It collects dust, it gets lost, it breaks, it dies. And even if you had all the “stuff” you’ve ever wanted, chances are you still wouldn’t be happy for long. Experience, however, is a very different kind of thing. It can improve with time, it can change its shape and meaning, and it can end up being worth a whole lot more than what you paid.

Experiences can be especially meaningful when they are a step or two outside of your comfort zone. Such as taking a class in something you know nothing about. Traveling to a different country. Going zip-lining or scuba diving. And the experience doesn’t have to be expensive either. Going to a new restaurant with friends. Taking a day trip or a long drive. Buy a dollar-store manicure kit and have a spa day. What matters is that you give yourself an experience where you can learn something new about yourself or the world around you.

Become A Wise And Happy Spender

Choosing to spend your money on experiences rather than on material things can really make a difference in how you value your money, your time, and the people around you. To quote the famous Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”