Opinion

A New Study Shows What You Should Really Be Spending on To Make Yourself Happy

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Joanne Poh

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It’s becoming the norm for upwardly mobile young Singaporeans to spend lavishly to make their lifestyles look as Instagrammable as possible.

People might complain like crazy about how expensive Singapore is becoming, yet that doesn’t stop them from buying Chanel handbags or taking that holiday to Iceland.

So why are Singaporeans still so notoriously unhappy? Haven’t we got zillions of retail stores and F&B outlets at which to spend our hard-earned cash?

A recent University of Cambridge study might shed some light on why, despite Singaporeans’ penchant for overspending, they’re just not that happy.

Researchers found that spending money can make you happier, but only if you spend your cash in a way that fits your personality. Here’s the lowdown.

 

The Big 5 Traits

According to the study, spending categories can be linked to the “Big Five” personality traits, namely the following:

  • Openness to experiences (whether you are open to trying new things or prefer to stick with what you know.
  • Conscientiousness (whether you’re a planner or spontaneous)
  • Extraversion (whether you love human interaction or would rather retreat into your batcave)
  • Agreeableness (whether you try to see things from other people’s point of view, or are more adversarial and see yourself as in competition with others)
  • Neuroticism (how badly affected by stress you are).

Each of type of spending corresponds with one or more of these traits. One of the examples cited was spending money on drinks in a bar. If you’re extroverted and spontaneous, you’re more likely to feel satisfied going out to bars, than if you’re introverted and conscientious.

 

So why are people unhappy despite spending so much?

Many Singaporeans are big spenders, but still unhappy in spite of it. The study suggests that these people could be unhappy simply because they’re spending on the wrong things.

Singapore society tends to be pretty conformist, which means you get hordes of people spending money in the same ways despite their different personality traits. This brings about mismatches in spending style and personality, which results in people spending tons of money on things that don’t really make them happy.

For instance, many Singaporeans get stuck in a vicious cycle of retail therapy and then end up wondering why they don’t feel better. People are willing to queue up for hours to buy Hello Kitty dolls at McDonald’s, only to chuck them aside six hours later and forget they ever existed.

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Image source: University of Cambridge

According to the chart provided by the Cambridge study, toys and hobbies correspond with low levels of conscientiousness, meaning people who are more easygoing and spontaneous tend to enjoy them more.

People with high levels of consciousness, who like to plan for the future and are good at delaying gratification would be better off spending on health and fitness. This could be because maintaining one’s health is a long term endeavour, and these folks, being conscientious, feel more fulfilled when they’re working towards something in the future rather than going all YOLO.

Another example is spending on entertainment, hair and beauty, which many Singaporeans are good at. Let’s face it, many do it just to show off, or think that because everyone else has that LV bag or is eating at the hipster cafe, that means they have to, too. In fact, those with high levels of openness to new experiences benefit the most from such spending.

Conversely, those who display lower levels of openness would benefit more from increasing their spending on their homes, rather than buying designer clothes and beauty products. Which makes sense, since they feel more comfortable being around people and places they know well, and the home is a site where that would happen most.

Right now, Singaporeans tend to spend money just because everyone else is doing so, because they are told to by their parents or society, or because they don’t want to lose face. Parents want you to throw a huge wedding banquet? Suck thumb lor. The problem is, spending money in this way has everything to do with what other people think, and nothing to do with how the spending affects you on a personal level.

In addition, people tend to not really understand their own personalities and what makes them tick. We lead busy lives, so who really has the time to sit back and evaluate where their lives are going?

 

How do we choose what to spend on?

If you have no idea what makes you happy (and we mean you, not your parents or partner), rather than what makes you look good in other people’s eyes, you need to do some soul searching.

Most of us have at least some inkling of what sorts of lives we really want to lead, and what makes us tick.

The trick is to find out what’s the most cost-effective way to make yourself happy, and to avoid spending in categories that aren’t suited to your personality type.

For instance, let’s say you’re an extroverted person who loves spending time with your friends, but you are also very conscientious and hate feeling like you’re wasting your money.

Now, let’s say you’re going on a trip to the Genting Highlands. Due to your high conscientiousness, you’re less likely to benefit from a gambling session at the casino than your more easygoing friends.

On the other hand, as an extroverted person, you’re well-placed to benefit from spending on travel and entertainment.

That means that a more efficient allocation of your resources would be to take the bus to KL and walk around, or to skip the Genting Highlands casino in favour of the theme park or cinema.

Most of us do not have unlimited money, so we have to allocate our spending to categories that make us happiest. Just because everyone else is spending on something doesn’t mean it’s something that we’d enjoy, too. Think about that the next time you’re about to mindlessly join that queue.

How do you allocate your money in order to maximise your happiness? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.

  • Francis Pang

    Author got a serious attitude problem with people how they spend their money. Rather using a more encouraging tone, she ends up reprimand the readers what she stereotyped them of “retail therapy habits and instagram-worthy photo lust”. It inks me.