Heather K Adams
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"Money can't buy happiness," or so the story goes. If you're like a lot of people, though, you've thought, "Well it would definitely make me feel happier." I could pay off those student loans, take that dream vacation — the laundry list goes on and on. Whenever you hear someone wonder, "Can money buy happiness?", in your mind you give a resounding, Yes! And guess what? According to a study by Princeton University, science is pretty much backing you up on that.

Can money make you happy?

Can money buy happiness? The answer is yes, if you spend it the right way. Listen: there are millionaires who are miserable, and folks under the poverty level honestly saying they're living their best lives. The big difference between them is the role money plays in those lives.

Folks who use money to buy things, especially perceived status symbol objects, are much more likely to be unhappy. 

Why? 

Because they're often following trends, buying conceptions of happiness dictated externally. Whereas people who see money as a tool, as a means through which they can attain their own definitions of happiness, are much better off. So can money buy happiness? Only when you know what really matters, what will give you true happiness. (Hint: it probably isn't more stuff.)

5 ways money can buy your happiness:

Diamonds are a girl's best friend? Maybe. Kind of. In a symbolic fashion. Diamonds and other symbols of wealth represent a lifestyle, one of leisure and financial independence. Which is enough to put a smile on anyone's face. But beyond pretty stones, the really happiest ways to spend your money are below.

1. Buy time.

For some, happiness is a free day to spend puttering around the garden, not a care in the world save weeding out the tomatoes. Hard to find time for that when you're working overtime just to make ends meet. Having money means being untied from the endless grinding wheel of working for someone else.

Being free enough to pursue your own interests, whatever those may be, is the dream of every woman pulling extra shifts, every man dragging himself out of bed for another Saturday morning in a row. Because life is meant to be lived, the freedom money can buy is one of living for yourself, not for the guy that cuts your check. Any instance you can use your money to buy you time to yourself, for yourself, will make you happier.

2. Buy memories.

It's said often, but the cliche is true, it's not the stuff you have; it's the things you do. While buying a fun new pair of shoes or a fancy watch might bring a momentary surge of pleasure, the experiences and memories of a journey give a deeper, longer glow.

Cultivating a focus on doing rather than owning ups your happiness quotient in major, measurable ways. Even a trip that might at the time feel like a nightmare will gift you lessons down the road about what really matters to you, and what doesn't. And remember that it doesn't have to cost a lot to have a measurable journey somewhere. Look close to home, find somewhere you've never been before and go. 

3. Put your money to work for others.

From a charity to a Kickstarter campaign, contributing to someone else's happiness increases your own. Buying out the cake wheel at a church fundraiser or donating to a benefits concert, however you spend it, putting your money towards a cause you believe in is deeply satisfying.

Want to go one level deeper? Invest your time as well as your money, and log hours for a cause. Volunteering has been shown to aid people dealing with deep depression to feel better. Imagine what it could do for you.

4. Help your friends and family.

When a loved one suffers, so do you. Being able to help those you care about when they're down is instant happiness, especially if you're repaying a kindness they or someone else first paid to you. 

Auto repairs, home repairs and medical emergencies are the biggest things that probably spring to your mind, but friends and family may need help in ways that seem less obvious. Take your best friend out to dinner, or on a weekend spa trip, to help her get over a breakup. Buy your mom flowers and your dad a new book of crosswords, just because. These don't have to be big expenses to make an impact on someone you love.

5. Leave a legacy.

Knowing your money will keep making the world a better place, and will in fact be making others happy, long after your gone, is a killer way to spark deep joy. Start a high-interest savings account as a college fund for a kid in your life. Contribute to a historical society's preservation campaign. Got some big bucks? Create a scholarship (or two).

Lots of worthwhile organizations need money, and investing in them now can make a big difference to a whole bunch of people later. The whole point here is that money really can buy happiness, and not just yours. "Share the wealth"? Yes, please!

The science of happiness: gratitude and honesty.

There are a lot of studies focused on the question of "Can money buy happiness?" and they look at any number of factors. How much money is "enough," what economic bracket is happiest, which slice of the pie chart tends to live longest. What the results all boil down to is that people who position the meaning and use of money in their lives in a healthy way are happier for it. 

The super rich don't always appreciate the exact value of the freedom their wealth affords them. The nouveau riche do... but they also often get caught up in the trappings of looking wealthy. The truly happy people are the ones who know they're lucky, or that they've finally made it. They're grateful, and they don't forget how different their life might be without that much money sitting in the bank. They're also honest in their pursuit of pleasure. Sure, they might buy a fancy car (or, you know, an island), but they're aware that the car is a thing, and not something they have any sense of their identity or purpose wrapped up in. 

For those on the other side of the equation, being "poor" isn't something they fixate on. Happy people are able to look at their lives and really value what they have, and what they're looking at isn't the bottom line of their bank account. It's their health, the quality of their lives and who they have in them. In short, the happiest people don't have to be the richest of the rich. They just have to know how to spend that moolah in meaningful ways.

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