If there’s one thing virtually every Singaporean wants more of, it’s probably not the great outdoors and it’s definitely not kids. It’s everyone’s favourite topic, money.
Unfortunately, given the poor showing of Singapore’s population in practically every happiness poll ever administered, Singaporeans either don’t have enough money, or the money they do have isn’t making them happy enough.
Whether money can actually buy you happiness is a tough question. Studies have shown that an increase in income can indeed buy happiness, but only up to a certain point. In the US, that point is $75,000 a year, beyond which more money does little to increase happiness.
While it’s safe to say the average Singaporean isn’t earning $75,000 a year, don’t despair. It’s been shown that how you use your money matters as much as you how much of it you have. That means you can get more happiness out of your money than someone who’s earning more but doesn’t know how to use it. Here are some tips.
1. Spend your money on experiences rather than objects
The stereotype of the Material Girl is the shopaholic who’s carrying so many shopping bags she can barely hold on to her Prada handbag.
It’s no wonder that despite the number of shiny new shopping malls sprouting up like poisonous mushrooms after the rain, Singaporeans seem to be getting unhappier and unhappier. Despite increasing opportunities to buy the biggest, shiniest toys, people are just not getting happier.
That’s because numerous studies have proven that spending money on experiences is a more efficient use of your money, happiness-wise, than spending money on stuff.
That doesn’t mean you need to go out and blow tens of thousands of dollars on a luxury trip to Paris or a country club membership. It does, however, mean being smart about how you allocate your time and money.
For instance, instead of spending your weekends shopping online at home, meet a friend for a coffee. On a vacation in Bangkok, instead of trying to buy up everything in sight at MBK or Platinum Mall, catch a muay thai match, attend a free meditation session at a temple or take a day trip to magnificent Ayutthaya.
2. Use money to strengthen your relationships
No, we don’t mean you need to buy “friends” by always being the guy who reserves a table at Pangaea.
But numerous studies have shown that humans need meaningful relationships in order to thrive and be happy. And by cultivating meaningful relationships, we don’t mean garnering lots of likes on Facebook.
On the other hand, spending a bit of money to get out of the house and engage in activities with other people might actually make you happier.
That might mean taking your kids to the park or taking your significant other out to lunch instead of parking yourself in front of the TV on a free day.
According to this article by a psychiatrist, many Singaporeans complain about not having hobbies, which means their lives revolve around work, the home, with perhaps eating, drinking and shopping being thrown into the mix.
Getting an inexpensive hobby can be a great, low cost way to get to know other people with common interests, and will probably generate more happiness than spending the same amount to update your wardrobe.
3. Spend on small rather than large purchases
You might have saved up for give years just to buy that Hermès handbag, but chances are you’ve just used that $25,000 in an incredibly inefficient way. After the initial euphoria of owning a bag that will put other ladies to shame, your happiness levels will go back to normal.
Studies have shown that spending money on frequent inexpensive purchases rather than rare expensive purchases buys more happiness, since each time you spend, your happiness levels increase only temporarily. Hence, it makes sense that you lower the cost of each purchase in order to increase the frequency.
This means taking three weekend trips to Malaysia, Indonesia or Thailand just might make you happier overall than a week-long trip to New York.
On the other hand, the good news is that even tiny amounts of spending can increase your happiness. So going shopping at Daiso instead of D&G or taking a trip to Legoland instead of London might not be such a bad idea.
4. Be true to yourself
Just because all the websites advising people to spend on experiences feature pictures of people skydiving and bungy jumping doesn’t mean you’re going to be in paradise if you do the same thing.
People report being significantly happier when they spend on activities that express their true personalities, rather than because they feel obliged to do so, whether by their peers or society.
That means that buying tickets to that indie gig when you’re a Britney Spears kinda guy might not make you as happy as you think.
5. Adjust your materialism levels
Unfortunately, if you’re insanely materialistic, you might be in trouble. A recent study showed that while people who were very materialistic didn’t benefit much from spending on experiences, they also didn’t get much happier spending on material goods, either.
This means that people who are extremely materialistic would do well to try to lower their levels of materialism or risk never being satisfied.
6. Save for peace of mind
People who like to save money get a bad rap. From Ebenezer Scrooge and Scrooge McDuck to George Costanza on Seinfeld, people think of savers as avaricious hoarders who amass cash so they can sit on mountains of gold or bathe in tubs of dollar bills.
But saving money can actually make you happy by giving you peace of mind. Living from paycheque to paycheque isn’t just a bad idea, it’s also incredibly stressful, as anyone who’s had that sinking feeling after taking a look at their bank balance on the glowing screen of an ATM machine can tell you.
As happy as you might be with your car’s fierce new rims, you might be even happier not having to wake up in a cold sweat every time the end of the month approaches.
How does your money make you happy? Let us know in the comments!