Five Steps to Financial Happiness


Everyone could use a little more happiness in their lives, right? We present tips from a psychologist who says spending our money differently may make us feel eminently richer.

“Some financial habits bring greater satisfaction than others.” That’s the gist of a study by Universtiy of British Columbia psychology professor and author Elizabeth W. Dunn and colleagues. In their study, titled “If money doesn’t make you happy, then you probably aren’t spending it right,” the authors outline eight principles for financial happiness. Here are five of them.

Principle #1: Buy more experiences and fewer material goods.

From a financial standpoint, many things we buy depreciate the minute we buy them. The most common example is a new car: it loses 15 to 20 percent of its value the minute you drive it out of the lot.

Experiences, on the other hand, are priceless — a fishing outing with one of your children, a concert with your best friend, a road trip, hiking the Grand Canyon, a family vacation. Memories don’t have to cost a fortune, but they can last a lifetime.

Principle #2: Use your money to benefit others.

The authors recommend making a donation to your favorite charity on the same day each year, say your birthday, Valentine’s day or Christmas.

Short on cash? You can also do a lot of good by donating your stuff, your time or your talent. You can read a book to the elderly or the sick, you can help build homes locally with Habitat for Humanity, or you can donate things you don’t use anymore to a local charity.

Principle #3: Buy many small pleasures rather than fewer large ones.

Some people work hard 51 weeks each year then treat themselves to one decadent week of vacation. Or they splurge and buy themselves an extravagant gift. Instead, the authors suggest that indulging in many small pleasures leads to more happiness. To some degree, it makes sense. Little bits of happiness throughout the day, the week or the year would maintain our happiness tank on high.

Small pleasures might include dining out, getting a massage or organizing a surprise for someone. Of course, some small pleasures are completely free, such as a walk in the park or enjoying a sunset.

Principle #4: Delay consumption.

This is probably a harder concept to grasp and implement in our instant gratification society. Stores constantly encourage us to “buy now, pay later.” This may be great for short-term happiness, but it’s a surefire way to get into debt.

Paying now and consuming later is a better strategy for two reasons: it keeps us out of debt and it creates anticipation (which itself causes pleasure). In other words, delayed gratification is a better recipe for happiness.

Principle #5: Beware of comparison shopping.

Consumer behaviorists tell us that people are actually happier with fewer choices. Otherwise, we may face analysis paralysis or buyer’s remorse, neither of which is good. Think about the last time you had to buy a camera, printer, computer, car or mattress. How often did you feel 100% convinced that you made the right choice? Experts recommend you do your research, make your selection and don’t look back.

Ultimately, some of our unhappiness is self-created: we compare ourselves with our neighbors, our friends, people on TV or in tabloids, our school mates or our soul mate. A wiser way to live may be to only compare your life with your life. Aim to be better off this year than last year, in every aspect of your life: happiness-wise, financially, socially, educationally and physically.

Dr. Zeltzman is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and serial entrepreneur. His traveling surgery practice takes him all over Eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. You can visit his websites at and

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