How to Spend for Maximum Happiness in 2014

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I’m a life coach. I study & teach positive psychology. I know that one of the biggest things holding us back from the lives we want is money. Since it’s such an issue, they’ve done a bunch of research on how money actually influences happiness and here’s the skinny: If you are a single person with no kids and you’re making $40,000 per year, guess what? Making more money isn’t gonna make you much happier. If you’re a family and your household income is $75,000 per year there’s solid evidence that more money won’t raise your family’s happiness a trifle.

What I’m trying to say is that if you fall below these income brackets, it’s reasonable to focus on making more money as a route to happiness. Meeting some of your basic needs may be a struggle, and that’s stressful.

However, if you fall in or above these income brackets, it’s really not reasonable to focus on making more money as a means of happiness enhancement.

But Sara, you may be saying. Meeting my basic needs IS a struggle. I really DO need to make more money. Well, here’s my honest response: Maybe you’re unhappy because you THINK you need more money. Or because you’re spending your money wrong. If you’re living outside of your means, you’re bound to be unhappy. But that doesn’t mean money is the real problem.

So let’s talk. There’s pretty solid research on what to spend our money on for maximum happiness. Some things make us happier than others, no matter how rich or poor we are. Obviously, basic necessities come first (edible food, wearable clothing, tolerable shelter, toilet paper, stuff like that) but after our basic needs are met we have some decisions to make.

Most of us know that spending on EXPERIENCES is better than spending on THINGS. But since we seem to make the same mistakes over and over again, I’ve created these research-based lists to help us out.


The YES list: spending on these things is proven to make you happier.

The NO list: spending on these things is proven to not make you happier & may even make you less happy.

The DEBATABLE list: no proof either way, so really take stock in how happy these make you.


  • Vacations & travel
  • Fun physical activities like skiing, kayaking, dancing, zip-lining, cycling, cooking, etc.
  • Living somewhere that decreases your commute time
  • Gym membership, yoga, dance, crossfit,and other group fitness classes
  • A therapist or life coach
  • A pet


  • Expensive clothing
  • Expensive shoes, handbags, or jewelry
  • A fancy car
  • A big house
  • Expensive furniture & decor
  • A newer phone
  • A bigger TV
  • More TV stations
  • New tech gadgets


  • Prepared food
  • Eating out
  • Organic or expensive health food
  • Manis & Pedis
  • High-end skin & hair products
  • A house keeper
  • First class
  • 4/5 star hotels
  • Entertainment (shows, concerts)

You may notice that the YES list is the shortest list. This is not because so few things make us happy. It’s because MOST THINGS THAT MAKE US HAPPY DON’T COST ANY MONEY!!!!!! So, for your reading pleasure below is a list of things that increase happiness, and are free!


  • Exercising outside
  • Talking with a friend
  • Walking with a friend
  • Supportive communities (church, women’s groups, men’s groups, etc.)
  • Time in nature
  • Meditating
  • Helping someone
  • Volunteering
  • Spending time with loved ones
  • Going to a park
  • Sledding
  • Running
  • Jumping
  • Dancing
  • Singing
  • The playground
  • Hugs
  • Kisses
  • Snuggles
  • Sleeping
  • Watching the sunrise
  • Watching the sunset
  • Smiling
  • Laughing
  • Any spiritual practice
  • Swimming
  • Writing a letter to a loved one
  • Practicing gratitude
  • Giving compliments
  • Receiving compliments

Honestly, the list of things that make us happy, and don’t cost any money, is limitless. If you’re considering something on the NO list, save your money and do something free instead. You’ll save money, so you won’t be as stressed. AND you’ll be happier than before. It’s a win-win.

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