3 Ways Money Can Buy Happiness

Three simple ways to improve your happiness and free up your cash flow.Three simple ways to improve your happiness and free up your cash flow.

"There are people who have money and people who are rich," Coco Chanel once proclaimed. She was right: The things we usually prize most -- family, friends, experiences -- don't come with a price tag. But even though we may say money can't buy happiness, many of us secretly believe we'd be happier if we had a little more dough. And in fact there is a connection between happiness and money -- you just need to know how to spend your cash. Money is "currency"; that word comes from the Latin root for "to run" or "to flow." Here's how to make it flow more freely and joyfully in your life.

Related: Why Volunteering Is Proven to Make You Happier

1. Open your palm.
How you feel about money has a powerful effect on your ability to get more of it. A philosophy in martial arts posits that an open palm signifies receptivity to what comes, while a closed fist emphasizes combative self-reliance. Similarly, when people's hands are clenched tightly around their cash, they're expressing the fear of not having enough. When they relax their grip, they tend to act in ways that encourage more money to come into their lives.

Try this experiment: The next time you feel uptight about your cash flow, give away 10 singles. Be ingenious, as these women I've worked with were: Angela slipped hers into children's books at the library, once a refuge for her as a harried young mother; on a mountaintop, Lanie tried to throw away a bouquet of bills, but the wind kept blowing it back in her face -- which she interpreted as proof that more wealth would come into her life.

This exercise may sound as if it's about giving away money, but really it's about giving yourself something. Notice how much creativity you bring to the process, how good it feels to think of others. Imagine the delight the lucky recipients will feel. That's a lot of bang for those bucks. Chances are you'll feel happier and more relaxed -- richer -- no matter what your bank statement says.

If the thought of parting with those 10 precious dollars makes you nervous, notice the effect that feeling has on your body. Your stomach may tense up; your jaw may tighten; your hands may ball into fists. We tend to project on the outside what we feel on the inside. How do you think money anxiety looks to others? Picture a commission-crazed saleswoman following you around a clothing boutique, practically begging you to try on… white jeggings? Chances are you'd beat a hasty retreat. Now picture yourself at a job interview. Whom do you think the employer would hire -- the you who's just got to get this job, or the you who knows her worth and projects the belief that her talents will be recognized?

When you radiate confidence, you're more open to creative ways of earning and more likely to ask for the raise, promotion, or fulfilling new job you deserve. So when money worries arise, make it rain with those singles. Then relax your body, breathe deeply, and count the blessings beyond your wallet. You'll realize you already possess everything you need to cope -- your own resourcefulness, a wealth of friends or family to lean on -- if ever a true emergency occurs. And your sense of well-being will soar.

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2. Pay it forward
When I started freelancing a dozen years ago, at first I scrabbled for every job and accepted every offer because I was too afraid to turn anything down. As I gained confidence in my abilities and ended up with more work than I could complete, I began recommending trusted colleagues for jobs. Surprisingly, the more referrals I made, the more offers I received. And the more work my colleagues took on, the more they then referred jobs to me. We focused on the assignments that excited us the most, and we enjoyed feeling generous in sharing the overflow.

When you stop pressuring yourself to chase every last dime, you're freer to pursue work that brings you more joy, not simply another paycheck. This approach also applies to other things you want in greater abundance. If you worry you don't have enough of something, try sharing more of it. Introduce friends in different circles to one another, then watch your own group of friends expand when they return the favor. Spend some precious downtime volunteering and notice how much more rewarded you feel than if you had sacked out watching TV. Call it a law of the universe: Generosity, like money, is a currency that tends to get repaid in kind.

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3. Invest in happiness.
Spending money can make you happier. But there's a catch: Buying stuff for yourself won't make you nearly as happy as buying things for others. Michael Norton, Ph.D., an associate professor of marketing at Harvard Business School, studied spending patterns in 136 countries -- in all but one (the Central African Republic), people who spent on others were happier than those who shopped just for themselves.

Why is that? Research has found that while Americans who earn $50,000 a year are much happier than those earning $10,000, the $5 million earners aren't much happier than the ones who make $100,000, notes psychologist Daniel Gilbert, Ph.D. It turns out that once all your needs and many of your wants are met, spending more on yourself just doesn't give you as powerful a jolt of joy as spending on others.

So if browsing gilt.com is making you guilty instead of giddy, hop over to kiva.org, where one $25 loan can change the life of a single person -- or even a village. (Plus, reading through the profiles can help you appreciate how truly abundant your own life is.) Or, make a teacher's -- and his or her students' -- day through donorschoose.org, where you can donate as little as a dollar to the classroom of your choice. The thanks you'll receive will make you feel richer and lighter of heart.

- By Betsy Rapoport

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