3 ways that money can buy happiness

We have all heard the saying ‘money can’t buy happiness’ and there is truth in that – especially when we place too high an expectation on what we think we can achieve with money. Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com

However, according to Dunn and Norton in their book ‘Happy Money: The New Science of Smarter Spending’ there are some principles  behind how we can use money that can dramatically affect our overall level of happiness.

I am not sure I agree with all that they say in their book, but here are 3 of their 5 principles about how money can actually buy happiness. I supplement their observations and research with my own reflections:

By buying experiences.
When I was a teenager I was given a choice between buying a cassette player or going to Switzerland to visit some close relatives. For some reason still unknown to me I chose the cassette player. The last time I checked it is still there in my parents’ house over 30 years later! It’s not much use to anybody and I wonder why it is still in the house. In retrospect I think I should have gone to Switzerland and given myself some memories to carry with me in life.

Another memory I have is from 1973 when my Dad was weighing up between taking us as a family to India or buying a 26 inch colour television (a big deal in those days). I am so glad he opted for the television (that’s a joke!). No we actually went on a 3 month trip to India that was an amazing time of adventure and connecting with family who we had not seen for 5 years. Memories from that time are still with me decades later. So far in my life I have never repeated the experience of being 12 weeks away from home on holiday. I somehow don’t think I would feel the same way about a television – even if it was in colour!

So money can buy happiness if it buys experiences. This is especially so if the experience:

- brings you together with other people fostering a sense of social connection
- makes a memorable story that you would enjoy telling for years to come
- is tightly linked to your sense of who you are or want to be
- provides a unique opportunity that eludes easy comparison with other available options.

By creating treats for yourself.
Money creates opportunities to buy more things – especially those things that we would love to have and to enjoy. The only problem is that when something becomes easily available then over time it loses the initial joy and satisfaction associated with it.  Knowing something won’t last forever can make us appreciate it more.
This is closely linked to gratitude. Quoting Oprah Winfrey, “The single greatest thing you can do to change your life today would be to start being grateful for what you have.” (For more on gratitude see The Importance Of Gratitude In Becoming A Genuinely Happier Person and Why Gratitude Can Be So Powerful). However, it is one thing to be gratitude for having or receiving something, but to maintain that sense of gratitude for that thing (whatever it is) can be more challenging.
Especially as we get older we move from seeking abundance of things to engage in a kind of pruning process to trim away the people and things that don’t deliver the emotional pay off of happiness that we seek.
In other words, recognising that an end is near holds a key to happiness , helping us turn to readily available comforts back into treats.When something is readily available to us it  becomes very easy to ‘normalise it’ and so lose our sense of enjoyment of it. The simple examples of that are having something like a food we enjoy or a favourite TV programme every day or as an on-going binge. When we do that then the happiness we get from those experiences reaches a plateau and rapidly tails off. (See the posts Which Way Are You Looking Part 1 and Part 2 along with How Would You Define Success Part 3 where we look at the top 5 regrets of the dying).

Using money to buy time.
One of the ubiquitous features of modern life is feeling hurried and stretched (see the post Data Overload). However, according to the research this may actually be an illusion. DeVoe and Pfeffer (2011) asked participants to record everything they did for all 1,440 minutes of the day. When they compared recent time diaries to similar diaries from earlier decades they discovered that people in the United States actually spend about 4 hours more per week engaging in leisure than they did in the 1960s!

It is striking how easy it is to fritter away time in tasks that we are not equipped to do or lack expertise in. If you find those tasks a form of relaxation then maybe that is fine, but often it can be an unnecessary distraction. The problem with buying things is that those things invariably take up time in looking after them and maintaining them. Quoting from Dunn and Norton’s book (p.74):

“Thinking about time – rather than money- spurs people to engage in activities that promote well-being like socialising and volunteering….Why? Time and money promote different mindsets. We view our our choices about how to spend time as being deeply connected to our sense of self. in contrast, choices about money often lead us to think in a relatively cold, rational manner. Focussing on time frees people to prioritise happiness and social relationships.”

I appreciate that a lot of these options are not available to the vast majority of people in the world. However, if you are able to read this blog then you like me are among the privileged.

How do these 3 proposed ways that money can buy happiness resonate (or not) with you?

(For more on this topic also see the blog post How Much Money Do You Actually Need?)

How Finding The Right Question Can Literally Change Your Life

Working as a psychiatrist in effect means that I get paid to ask questions, listen carefully and decide a course of action.  I have the privilege of asking some incredibly personal questions to a huge variety of people. What I find fascinating is that you never quite know where your questions will take you.

listening-photoThe questions we ask ourselves and others can go in two possible directions. They can drag us down or they can have the potential to be powerful and even life-changing.

The right question can open doors to previously unexplored places. It can open up amazing opportunities and possibilities. Alternatively the wrong question can close doors and cause walls and barriers to come up – maybe never to be opened.

Finding and asking the right question in the right way and right time is an art and a skill that can take a life time to master. And as people are so varied and complex it can lead to countless avenues and openings.

At any point in the day, as life happens and things go our way or don’t go as we plan or hope for, we find ourselves with a whole range of thoughts, feelings and emotions. At every point we find ourselves at a crossroads. Either we can choose to learn from what has happened or we can react and judge from what has happened.

The judger questions are along the lines of:

Further Thinking About Why In A New Year

We have been looking at this 18 minute TED talk by Simon Sinek. In it he answers the question as to why is it some people and organisations are more inventive, pioneering and successful than others. Is it just a matter of luck or more opportunities? Sinek’s answer is that it has to do with the most fundamental and basic of questions – the question of why.

The power of  why can be seen from both a personal and organisational perspective. The question of why is so fundamental that when people lose their why then they eventually lose their way. They become distracted and side tracked by all sorts of good or potentially good ideas, but they lose their fundamental core of what they are really about and why they do what they do.

But when we became crystal clear about our why and can articulate that to others, then we either attract or repel them. What we lose is lukewarm, tepid neutrality. Here is how Sinek puts it on the video:

Why the Best Way to Start this Year is with the Question Why

Have you ever wondered why some people seem to make incredible progress with their lives and others seem to get stuck or even go downhill? Why in some cases 30 years of experience is just one year of experience repeated 30 times?

The following 18 minute TED talk by Simon Sinek powerfully explains why this is. He uses the examples of large companies like Apple, the innovation of flight by the Wright brothers and the impact of Martin Luther King. However, at the start of a new year I believe what he is saying has important implications as we seek to grow and develop in our lives and the things that matter to us personally.

I would strongly encourage you to take 18 minutes out of your day to watch this video. You won’t be disappointed and it might just change the way you look at life. It is also apparently the second most popular TED talk of all time:

Sinek has very helpfully simplified the process into what he calls the golden circle…

7 Questions to ask yourself as we enter a new year

A new year beckons us! What will 2015 hold in store for you and your family? What are you looking forward to or maybe even dreading? What did you learn from this last year?

wisdom-2The start of a new year gives a natural opportunity to appraise how the last year has gone and make preparations for the months that lie ahead.

Søren Kierkegaard has a helpful quote that says, “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forward.”

Indeed those who do not learn from the past are invariably doomed to repeat the same mistakes or find themselves getting stuck in their relationships or other areas of their life. It is so easy to reach a lid to your potential. As someone has said, there is a world of difference between 30 years of experience and 1 year of experience repeated 30 times!

There is also  a real danger of continually living in the past and what might have been. The so called ‘if only ____’ syndrome (you fill in the blank). What I think is much more helpful is the U.S. Army evaluation system:

#1 Acknowledge what happened.
#2 Learn from the experience.
#3 Adjust your behaviour accordingly.
So with that in mind how was this last year for you? What are the lessons you learnt that you are going to aim to move forward with in 2015?

I am grateful to Michael Hyatt for the following questions to appraise 2014 and look ahead to 2015. He has a very helpful programme called Your Best Year Ever which you can access here.

I will also share my answers with you to help you think through your thoughts about 2014. I would strongly encourage you to also write down your own answers and not just keep them in your head. As we write, our thoughts begin to disentangle themselves and bring clarity in a way that is otherwise just not possible.
As I share the questions below I have added some of my own reflections to help you think through your own experiences. If you want more clarification from me feel free to ask in the comments section below. My hope for you as I indulge myself in this way publicly is that you will be prompted to have insights that will put you in a stronger positions for whatever this new year has in store for you.

So here goes!

4 Lessons we learn from Christmas

Christmas Day is arguably one of the most celebrated days in the history of the world.

What is its signifcance and why is it so widely celebrated? When we think about Christmas one of my favourite verses is from 2 Corinthians 8:9. This is how it is translated from the original Greek in the New International Version:

P1080380“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor so that you through His poverty might become rich.”

The Message paraphrase of the same passage says:

“You are familiar with the generosity of our Master, Jesus Christ. Rich as he was, he gave it all away for us—in one stroke he became poor and we became rich.”

In that single verse for me is the meaning of Christmas. What do I mean?
That Jesus Christ, who was equal with God the Father and Holy Spirit, who was enjoying perfect love and peace and wealth in every possible way, should choose to come to earth for you and me.

He who had all the riches of heaven should choose to humble himself and come to earth as a baby.

True humility is not humiliation or low self-esteem or false modesty whereby we try to sheepishly try to hide our talents. Rather it is the noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself.

Here are 4 lessons about life we learn from this:

How much money do you actually need?

CAN MONEY BUY HAPPINESS? How much money do you need?
Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.comDon’t worry I am not asking you for any money!
It seems such a ridiculous question to ask, but there is more to the question of money and happiness than might at first be apparent.

Books, internet articles and advertising come at us in every direction about making more money or finding ways to increase our wealth. We live in a world that bombards us with information, tools and tricks to make more money.

And yet the vast majority of us have had very little in the way of formal education about how to manage personal finances or wisely steward the material resources we have been given.
If I could ask you the question, how much money do you need to be happy, I can almost guarantee your answer…… 

Just press the continue button and scroll down a little bit further!


Why I struggle with religion

That may come as something of a surprise to you, but yes I do struggle with religion.


When I say that I am not referring to any one religion in  particular, but with the entire premise behind religious thinking. It appears to me that whatever our religious background or professed faith or even lack of any faith, there is the same premise at the back of our minds. What is that premise?

Wise, foolish, evil? What kind of person are you?

As we reflect on the Law of the Inner Circle with regard to the people around us, it does beg the question as to what kind of person am I when I am around others?

Question mark

So as you read this post it is important to reflect on your own attitude and reactions to others as well as the behaviour of those around you.

Categorising people may seem unduly harsh – especially if there is no self-reflection. However, what is also very apparent from both experience as well as all the scientific research, is that not everyone is the same in the way they think or look at the world around them.

That means you cannot treat all people the same way. Yes everyone is of equal value and worth, but everyone is different in terms of what is important to them and how they process life and their experiences. Some of those differences relate to temperament and personality, while others relate to deeper character issues.

The Law of the Inner Circle is a good short hand for intentionally deciding who I should spend time and energy with as it forces us to think about our priorities, vision for life and values.

In addition to the categories of VIP, VNP and VDP along with lifters and leaners that we looked at in a previous post, Henry Cloud provides a useful distinction between different kinds of people. The roots of this are in the Biblical Scripture and are enormously perceptive.

As we look at them it is worth mentioning that elements of all three are in each one of us. So while we can certainly apply the framework to others, I myself if  I am realistic about my own heart can see aspects of all 3 within myself. The diagnostic question is:

5 Key Relationships You Must Invest In

So how do I cultivate a network of healthy relationships around me to sustain me for the long haul?
arms-teamworkIn many ways that takes a life time to answer! However, its helpful to look at some principles and guidelines to steer us in the right direction. For me that has meant cultivating the following 5 types of relationships in the following order: