It’s the Little Things
An important aspect of the money-happiness connection is the fact that the amount of money you make matters less than how you spend it. And while we know money alone can't buy happiness, strategic spending can significantly enhance your well-being.
Rather than focus on major investments — cars, homes, art, and vacations — consider small tweaks that can deliver big results. Sometimes that means changing regular habits, but it can also include savvy reallocations of how you spend your money.
Here are five things to buy to boost your personal happiness today.
Tools of Reflection
Introspection happens differently for everyone. Some casually daydream while others create more regimented schedules for reflection. For those preferring a schedule, regular writing is key.
Keeping a diary may seem like the stuff of angst-filled adolescence, but adult journaling is a powerful tool for enhancing happiness. Most adults, however, shudder at the thought of a daily composition. But filling in some blanks, guided by repeated prompts — something the Five-Minute Journal offers — is far less daunting.
Or if you skew more toward daydreaming practices, meditation and relaxation apps are an economical, worthy investment. The sounds of nature, like Rain Rain, or more structured options like Calm, are apps that serve as a quick fix for mental sanity.
Houseplants and Flowers
Going green means more than recycling. In fact, the literal translation — surrounding yourself with houseplants and flowers — does the most to immediately enhance well-being. Plants increase air quality, which transforms your long- and short-term health. And studies show that indoor plants help shorten recovery time from illness as they diminish hospital stays and decrease the need for pain meds.
Misplaced items can cost us 10 minutes each day (over an hour a week), as we lose up to nine items daily — phones, keys, wallets, gloves, etc. Reclaim that time and diminish frustration with a device to keep track of your things. Tile is “the smart companion for all the things you can’t stand to lose.” Attach the small square to any item. If it’s marked, it sends a Bluetooth signal up to 100 feet, acting as a homing device. TrackR, another tracking device, operates almost identically.
Buy: Tile, $25 ($17.50 each for a 4-pack)
Anyone who exercises will tell you: A runner’s high is a real thing, brought on by a flood of endorphins. But knowledge and willpower alone are often not enough to motivate us.
To remedy this, Shawn Achor, in The Happiness Advantage, developed the “20-second rule,” which speaks to our increased likelihood of doing things that are easy to start. One of the easiest ways to nudge yourself is by ensuring you feel good about your appearance while you’re doing it. Instead of old, worn-out T-shirts, upgrade to moisture-wicking, fitted workout clothes. And while you may cringe at the thought of prostrating to the high-priced Lululemon gods, affordable options abound, from Fabletics to Athleta to Lucy.
Random Acts of Monetary Kindness
More than selfless altruism, giving is actually receiving. So much so that spending money on others boosts happiness more than spending it on yourself. But that doesn’t just equate with bigger wedding gifts and picking up the tab for the entire group at dinner. Small monetary investments in other people can have the biggest rewards — just think of the money you’re saving someone by adding change to their soon-to-expire parking meter.
Buy: Tall latte at Starbucks for the person in line behind you, $2.85; paying the soon-to-expire parking meter of the car next to you, $0.50-$6.00 (price variation per hour in Los Angeles)
Anna Akbari, Ph.D. is a sociologist, entrepreneur, and the "thinking person's stylist." She is the founder of Sociology of Style, which takes an intelligent look at image and culture-related issues and offers holistic image consulting and life coaching services. Find out more and follow her on Twitter.