Buying happiness.

By David Joel Miller.

Just how do you go about getting happiness?

Happiness seems to be so much harder to get than misery. In a previous post, I wrote about 13 ways to make yourself miserable. Finding ways to make yourself happy seems so much more difficult. It appears there are only a couple of ways we humans go about trying to acquire happiness. I did an internet search and found mostly things to do, places to go to make me happy. There were also some sites devoted to treating unhappiness based on the assumption if we are less miserable we must then be happier.

Lots of people try to make themselves happy by buying. Despite more goods available now for purchase than ever before these things have not resulted in a universal reduction in unhappiness. More stuff and still we are unhappy.

More money does not make us happy, hence the old saying “money does not buy happiness.” Is that so? Then why do we keep spending money trying to become happy?

People also try to find happiness in frantic doing. The paradox here is that the people who do the most seem to be the least happy.

There are times when buying and doing do make people happy. Maybe the difference is in the way we spend our money and our time.

1. Doing for others makes us feel good.

Have you ever done something for a little child or a sick person? How did it make you feel to help someone else? Did you feel bad? Did you feel good? Most people tell me that helping a child makes them feel good.

This is a major part of the twelfth step as those who have been around a twelve step group can tell you. Sponsors offer to help newcomers because it feels good to help. Anytime we are thinking about others and not ourselves our problems shrink. Twelve step sponsors work with newcomers because it keeps them sober.

The joy of helping others sure looks like happiness to me.

2. The way we spend our money determines if it makes us happy or not.

Michael Norton has done a wonderful video on how the way we spend our money affects our happiness, more on Michael Norton at the end of this post.

People, who spend money on others, most often feel happier about the purchase than people who spend the money on themselves. Norton has done a lot of research on this. The results seem to be the same almost everywhere on the planet.

Donate money to charity and you will feel better. Spend it on yourself and the pleasure will last a very short time. Now, this does not say to neglect ourselves or that it is wrong to do nice things for ourselves. What he does point out is that money spent solely for the purpose of making ourselves happy is likely to fail.

The size of the purchase does not seem to matter. One huge donation to a charity, while commendable does not create the long-term happiness that developing a habit of being helpful or of service to people will create.

The conclusion I take from all this is that developing a habit of caring about others and spending your time and money on doing good, creates more happiness. Grow the habit of selfishness and spending on your own pleasure and no amount of time or money can make you happy.

About Mr. Norton, you can see the video of his presentation on the TED site. For those of you not familiar with TED it is an organization devoted to “ideas worth spreading.” This is one on-line video source worth watching. Here is the link.

Michael Norton TED – Ideas worth spreading

Any of you have stories about the way in which you spent your time and money and how those expenditures influenced your happiness?

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books


3 thoughts on “Buying happiness.

  1. Pingback: Should you be happy? | counselorssoapbox

  2. Pingback: Discovering Happiness | counselorssoapbox

  3. Pingback: Discovering Happiness | counselorssoapbox

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