Everyone has heard the expression “You can’t buy happiness,” but I suspect that on some level most people don’t actually believe it’s true. If we just had enough money, we could buy and do everything we wanted every day, and live lives of pure bliss and contentment…right?

Well, not necessarily. Research studies on this issue show that above a certain level of financial security, there is no correlation between higher income and higher levels of satisfaction or well-being. (And in case you’re wondering, that minimal financial threshold is only about $70,000 per year.)

But research does show that certain kinds of purchases do tend make people more satisfied.

The Three Best Investments for Contentment

There is a wonderful book called Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending that summarizes the research in this area, and offers many strategies for maximizing happiness with every dollar you spend. But the purchases with the most potential to create true, enduring satisfaction are the ones that foster greater connection to ourselves and others. These three gold-star investments are:

  1. Your own time
  2. Other people
  3. Experiences

Buy Time for Meaning

One of the most rewarding things you can buy with your money is your own time. This might be hiring a housekeeper, pet sitter, personal assistant, or laundry service for your sheets and towels, or it might just mean taking the bus instead of driving to work. The point is, the financial investment in outsourcing gives you the time and attention to devote to whatever is most important to you – aligning your daily activities with the values and priorities that are truly meaningful to you.

By delegating tasks that distract you from your life goals, you are able to live in greater alignment and self-connection. Ask yourself whether a small investment of this type might give you the hours you’re looking for to achieve your highest, most worthy goals.

Invest In Others

As wise people have known for centuries, helping others often lifts the helper as much as the helped. We humans thrive when we are helping others…whether it’s treating the stranger in line behind you to coffee, arranging for Champagne in your friends’ honeymoon suite, or donating money to Heifer International so that a family in a developing country can break out of the cycle of poverty. That’s why many therapies for depression include a service component…helping others helps us, too.

When we give to others, we feel good about ourselves because we are living our values. We also feel more connected to the people we’ve helped, whether or not we’ve even met them. Together, these tendencies make investing in the well-being of others a deeply – and mutually – rewarding way to spend money.

Choose Experiences That Matter

Another (related) contentment investment with a AAA rating is experiences. The research shows that buying experiences tends to make people happier than buying products, because the pleasure of an experience is something that can be replayed, revisited, and shared with others (through stories) endlessly for the rest of our lives. Nearly all shoes, jewelry, and gadgets will stop delighting us after just a few months.

What’s on your bucket list? Imagine if instead of splurging on the newest whatever to hit the market, you took your family to see your favorite sports team in the championship game…or you moved to Vietnam for a month…or you took a tango class…or you volunteered for Habitat for Humanity. The adventure will be deeply meaningful and connected in the moment, and likely even more satisfying in the remembering and retelling.

Ask yourself whether it isn’t time to start spending money on meaningful experiences rather than more stuff. And if not now, when?


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