Would you like to buy your loved ones happiness for Christmas this year? Start by striking off all the material goods on the list. Money can buy happiness but collecting more stuff cannot. Experiences are more likely to make us happy than material goods, say professors Michael Norton and Elizabeth Dunn in Happy Money.

These authors have made it all the way to Jay Leno’s Tonight Show encouraging others to focus on spending differently rather than earning more money. We are a generation that works very hard to earn more money to buy things – a new smartphone, solar panels for our home, an electric car, a Louis Vuitton wallet, a trip to Bali.

Does this scenario sound familiar to you? You are shopping frantically the day before a charity event to buy new shoes and a dress. Checking your watch at the cash register as you pay $300 for your purchases, you realize you are running late to meet your family for dinner. You have associated your overall enjoyment of the event to how you will look and present yourself. Enjoying time with your family has become a lower priority. You have given far less thought to the reason for the charity event you have paid $100 to attend.

How the Brain Rewards Buying Goods

Rather than buy happiness, your above actions will lead to a lower level of happiness. The act of shopping and behaviours that lead to happiness activate different regions of the brain.  When you shop, your brain acts in a similar way to the brain of an addict.

When you buy something you like, your brain releases dopamine as part of the dopaminergic reward system. This increases your energy and motivation toward obtaining the item that causes this response. When the object is denied, the dopamine level and attraction increase. This reward system causes the gambler to go back to the blackjack tables over and over again, despite the fact he is losing his money.

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How the Brain Rewards Positive Experiences

How would you feel if you did not buy the new dress and shoes but instead saved the money for another charity event? Much happier. Scientists are finding that our brain is hard-wired to reward us for doing good. We also have a large social emotion processing center in the brain that rewards us for social activities. For attending the charity event, you are doubly rewarded by the altruistic and social centers of the brain. You could conceivably lose money at the blackjack tables at the event, but still leave happy because this money lost is going to a charity.

Spending More on Happiness

It’s true then – money can buy happiness. Not only can money buy happiness, but we are not spending enough on the things that make us happy, says Harvard Professor Norton.The road to happiness is changing our spending habits.

Steps for Happy Consumption

Here is how to adopt happy spending habits:

  • Buy experiences instead of material goods – Spending money on a vacation, a movie or a concert will make you happier.
  • Buy time – Ask yourself, “How will this purchase change the way I use my time?” advises Professor Norton.
  • Spend time showing gratitude – When we show gratitude, positive social emotion is activated, including bonding and positive social interactions.
  • Pay now, consume later – Consuming now and racking up credit card debt will create more stress than happiness associated with the purchase.
  • Invest in others – Scientists are discovering that the brain is hard-wired for altruism and helping others.

Source: Happy Money, Greater Good Science Center

Asian Women Are Happy

A comparison of top lifestyle blogs in Asia and the West reveals that Asian women understand the ingredients to happiness. Parenting and cooking lead Singapore blogs whereas fashion blogs dominate the top blogs in Britain. Asian women seek holistic and green living advice at Viva Woman, parenting tips from Mum’s the Word and several daddy bloggers. In the UK, makeup artist Lisa Eldridge and the Anna Wintour of the blogosphere Style Bubble lead a parade of fashion bloggers.

Anecdotally, at least, Asian women are happier than their Western counterparts.

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C.E.O @ The New Savvy
Anna Haotanto is passionate about finance, education, women empowerment and children’s issues. Anna has been featured in CNBC, Forbes, The Straits Times, Business Insider, INC and The Peak Singapore. She was nominated and selected for FORTUNE Most Powerful Women conference in 2016 (Asia) and 2015 (San Francisco, Next Gen). Anna has 10 years of experience in the financial sector and is currently a Director in Tera Capital. Her previous work experience includes positions at Citigroup, United Overseas Bank, a regional role in Business Monitor and a boutique private equity firm based in Shanghai. She graduated from Singapore Management University (Finance and Quantitative Finance).