The Search for Happiness Optimization


What would you buy if I gave you $200,000 to spend before the end of the week? Would you buy a brand new BMW?

Maybe upgrade your living quarters from an apartment to a condo? Would you buy a brand new watch? Or buy a set of tickets for a trip to an exotic country with one of your closest friends? Would all of this make you happy?

If you’re normal. Yes.

It would be pretty hard for someone to wipe that smile off your face. But what if I was to tell you that buying a BMW or upgrading your apartment wouldn’t give you the same ROI on Happiness, as a trip to an exotic country?

Would you believe me?

You should.

I recently read the study, If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy Then You Probably Aren’t Spending It Right. The researchers behind this study uncover and identify a shocking disconnect and failure in society. People are making purchasing decisions that don’t translate into happiness everyday in its pursuit.

From this, I started thinking of the ongoing troubles found within our society where unconscious consumption runs rampant. The issues run deep and are not only related to over consumption but also to life dissatisfaction and overall unhappiness.

For example, Young Professionals are feeling overwhelmed and many are struggling to cope with the expectations being placed on them by society and their parents. As a result, young people are committing suicide and young professionals are becoming depressed – It’s what I call, a Happiness Epidemic.

Yesterday, I stumbled across a Facebook update from a friend asking:

Who wants to go to the Mall with me? I need some retail therapy! ASAP!

What’s alarming about this post is that this person honestly believes that a brand new pair of shoes will actually impact their emotions and make them happy. What’s even more alarming is that this is the mindset of people all over the Country and better yet, across the Globe. And people with this mind set are being celebrated through organizations, corporations and the media on a regular basis. This is not an attack on corporations or businesses.

As a marketer, I recognize that businesses have a job to do and their job is is to make money. My issue isn’t with corporations trying to increase their bottom line. My issue in this world of over-consumption is the lack of knowledge we (consumers) have in regards to what will actually bring us happiness and what will not.

The study reiterates the notion that money can in fact buy happiness. You read that right. Money can buy happiness. The problem however,  is related to the fact that most people aren’t spending their money on things that actually translate into happiness.

People are making empty investments into products and services that have short-term impacts on their emotions rather than long-term impacts on their lives and happiness.

Most people don’t know the basic scientific facts about happiness—about what brings it and what sustains it—and so they don’t know how to use their money to acquire it. It is not surprising when wealthy people who know nothing about wine end up with cellars that aren’t that much better stocked than their neighbors’, and it should not be surprising when wealthy people who know nothing about happiness end up with lives that aren’t that much happier than anyone else’s — If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy You Aren’t Spending It Right

In 2010, the New York Times published an article about consumption and how it relates to happiness. In this article a professor discussed a study that identified the number one category to be positively related to happiness. Surprisingly, the top category wasn’t cars, home improvements or even a shiny new necklace from Tiffany’s.

The number one category was leisure activities: vacations, entertainment, sports and equipment used to enhance an experience such as golf clubs, yoga mats or a surf board. Thus, buying authentic memorable experiences should be our primary focus when looking to optimize our lives using a pay cheque.

According to Stats Canada, the average household in Canada spends around 6% of their total household income on leisure and entertainment. According to the US Census, my neighbors across the border only spend roughly 4.5% of their total household income on leisure and entertainment. This may also indicate why Canada is ranked as one of the top 10 happiest places to live while our neighbors in the US didn’t make the list.

As I looked deeper into the stats I found something that truly blew my mind. When a consumer is younger than 25 they spend 4.6% of their annual income on entertainment and leisure. After 25, that percentage drops to 4.4% and is consistent for the rest of our lives.

The 4.6% spent when we’re under 25 is highest spend in comparison to all other generations. Meaning, as we age and as our incomes become more disposable we are actually spending LESS on leisure and more on our homes, clothes, jewelry, toys, vehicles and food.

That’s right.

As we age, we are spending more money on things that don’t translate into happiness with the expectation that happiness will still find us. We buy bigger homes, nicer cars, fancier watches and stand still in regards to experiencing the world around us. And older generations have the audacity to wonder why the good old days are worth reminiscing about…

In the study If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy Then You Probably Aren’t Spending It Right the researchers make eight suggestions. Four of these suggestions directly relate to the idea of purchasing and optimizing our lives for happiness. These four insights should be a used as the foundation of your own search for buying and investing in happiness:

  1. Buy more experiences and fewer material goods
  2. Use our money to benefit others rather than ourselves
  3. Buy many small pleasures rather than fewer large ones
  4. Pay close attention to the happiness of others

So what are some innovative and intelligent ways for you to increase and optimize your happiness? Whether you have figured out happiness or not, it’s obvious that our society as a whole needs to reevaluate it’s importance. Depression is on the rise along with suicide and divorce.

People are not happy. The idea of buying happiness needs to be a priority on everyone’s list rather than a big home and fancy car. What you believe makes you happy – Probably doesn’t.

Here are a few of my own ideas:

1. Increase Happiness Awareness: We have all heard about KONY2012 and the bad things happening in Africa. I’m not writing this to devalue the impact that Invisible Children has had in raising awareness on this horrible story. What I’m proposing is that we also recognize the issues happening in our own back yards. Unhappy marriages, unhappy children and depressed young people are all around us. We need to recognize the importance of Happiness and teach people the most effective ways to reach it. In psychology classrooms around the globe, we study depression but rarely do we study happiness. This needs to change. Happiness should be a priority for everyone.

2. Take Multiple Mini-Vacations: Instead of using your two weeks vacation in one week chunks – Spread it out! Take an extra Friday here and an extra Monday there instead of vacationing for full weeks at a time. Not only will a short trip require less planning (less stress) it will provide you with a great opportunity to do catch up on some rest and relaxation. Looking for an unforgettable experience? Check out Jetsetter for flash sales on luxury experiences.

3. Optimize your life for Memories: Instead of doing things that you’re expected to do – Do things that will result in memories you will never forget. Instead of always saying no when someone asks you to grab a few drinks on a work night, say yes! Instead of spending your weekend at a hotel-chain in Vancouver, find a unique place to stay on like these beautiful apartments and homes. The reality is, your life is what you make it. You decide how much risk you’re going to take and how often you’re going to zig when everyone else zags. Here is a Venn Diagram that sums up what I’m talking about quite nicely:

Venn Diagram - Inspiration - dreamr

4. Adopt the Young Forever Philosophy: For some young professionals it’s becoming ever-so difficult to separate the “professional” from the “young”. For many, it’s a huge challenge in being able to enjoy life to the fullest while parents and society places a certain level of emphasis on the concept of growing up. My belief is that we need to encourage spending time living and less time worrying about how everything will turn out. More time doing things that matter and less time doing things that don’t. Spend our time on creating memories and meeting people instead of spending our time worrying about to-do lists and societal expectations.

5. Work to Live instead of Living to Work: While I believe work should be considered more than just a job – It should not be considered your reason for existence. Your work should open up doors for you to experience the world around you. It should provide you with an increased opportunity to optimize your life for happiness. That’s the key. As the saying goes, do what you love and never work a day in your life.

So there you have it.

Those are some of my thoughts on the Happiness epidemic and some of the ways that we can tackle it. Have your own opinions on over consumption and how it’s impacting society? I’d love to hear them! I leave you with this short video I found during my research for this post over at Brain Picking…