It increasingly seems to me that my children measure their happiness strictly in monetary terms – if I don’t buy them x, y or z, they will not ever be happy, in this life or the next. Of course, being blessed with the attention span of a flea (as is most of this generation), they lose interest in it even before the packaging is in the recycling bin, and they are back to being bored/unhappy/uninterested and what have you. Of course I know in principle that money and material goods cannot buy you happiness, but looking around, I wonder if I am the last (wo)man standing who believes in this old saying. And I must have been saying this aloud once too often in my kids’ hearing, because recently my son came to me brandishing a book, saying, “Look Mom, it has been scientifically proven that money can buy happiness!”
In this interesting book: Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, by Harvard professor Michael Norton and Elizabeth Dunn, the authors argue that money can bring happiness, but only if you know how to spend, rather than how much to spend. There were two points that caught my attention specifically. The first one was: buy experiences, not stuff. They found that money spent on vacations, for instance, generated more happiness than buying a TV that cost the same amount. I thought this was very true for me at least – I definitely remember the vacations and trips I have taken, even many years ago, and I will be hard pressed to remember even one big material purchase that I made ten years ago (when did I buy my TV and how much did I pay for it? I’ve forgotten…..).
The second point was something I thought made a lot of sense in dealing with our kids: make it a ‘treat.’ By limiting exposure to certain products and goodies, we can not only increase our happiness from them, but also increase its value – two points that we desperately need our kids to learn. For example, eating chocolate just once a week means that we will look forward to the treat; eating it after every meal and it becomes another ho-hum experience. And I think that in today’s more materialistic world, where many of us parents want to make our children happy by giving them whatever they want, we have inadvertently taken away from them two of life’s greatest pleasures – the joy of anticipation and the pleasure of getting a ‘treat.’