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Spending money on yourself does not lead to happiness

Multiple studies show that spending money on others and being generous with your time can make you happier. On the flip said of that, spending money on yourself does not lead to any increase happiness, and in fact it will often even make people more miserable. The sources of this include studies from Elizabeth Dunn, the University of Zurich in Switzerland, as well as Harvard University among others.

We at needhelppayingbills.com are always reporting on the importance of money management, saving, investing, and living within your means. How families spend their money makes a big difference in what their financial future may hold, and these studies show that how you spend your money will also make a difference in your level of happiness!

Not only does spending money on others lead to increased levels of happiness, but there are even health benefits to doing this. It can lower the giver’s blood pressure and senior citizens who are generous with others may even live longer, more fulfilling lives. It can also reduce stress as well as make the giver have a more positive outlook on life.

Studies on spending and happiness

The primary study that was completed on this topic was by Elizabeth Dunn, in which over 600 people participated. The participants spent different amounts of money on one of 4 causes, including gifts for themselves, their own personal bills, gifts or presents for others, or charity. The dollar amounts involved in the spending were wide ranging and range from $ to a couple hundred dollars.

In every case, those participants who gave gifts to others reported much higher happiness levels than others. The levels on increased happiness even exceeded charitable giving. The study from Dunn is also backed up by other research as we noted, including the Zurich study and many others. The studies also show that anyone who just spent money on their own needs either did not experience any increase in happiness, or they even became less happy over time.

Personally, I find this to be true in my life too. I rarely experience any joy or satisfaction when I buy items for myself. Getting the newest cell phone, buying a TV, some new shirt, or spending money on some material item really brings me no joy. In fact, I actually do not like buying stuff for myself and I like to live simply. Sometimes spending money on experiences may bring me a little joy, but even that level of happiness pales in compares to spending money on others.

When I buy someone else a gift, or treat them to an experience, that makes me very happy. Even though the gift is not always a “hit” or if they do not appreciate the effort, I still feel better tying. While giving to a charitable cause also brings me some positive feelings, that is still not as great a feeling as spending on others.

It is good to see that these various studies also indicate the same thing, and that is that the majority of people find more joy in giving back to others, buying gifts or presents, and treating other people (or even charities) well. Those who buy for themselves often go down the path of needing more and more as they try to “chase” the feeling of being happy by spending, or they go down the path of lifestyle creep. And that is a losing battle..,happiness does not come from material goods or experiences (or the pursuit of them) as these and other studies confirm.

The studies also indicate the dollar amount that someone spends on others is really irrelevant; whether you spend $5 on someone else or much more, it always seems to bring more happiness to those who give. No matter the reaction of the recipient, Dunn confirms the attempt by the “giver” in itself brings happiness.

While levels of personal happiness include many different things (genetics and internal feelings being the biggest drivers) it is good to see that you may be able to increase your levels of happiness by being generous with others. While the level of increase each of us experiences will vary, and will not replace the other drivers, even moving the dial to a more happy life is a great thing.


Jon McNamara is the CEO of needhelppayingbills.com, a company that he started in 2008 and that specializes in helping low income families as well as those who are in a financial hardship. He also found NHPB LLC, a company committed to helping the less fortunate. Jon and his team also provide free financial advice to help people learn about as well as manage their money. Every piece of content on this website has been reviewed by him before publishing and many of the articles he has personally written. Jon is the leading author for needhelppayingbils.

One thought on “Spending money on yourself does not lead to happiness

  • March 16, 2019 at 7:37 am

    Lol! 😂
    Tell this to all this rich people and their college kids. They would agree!
    Imagine if they spent that on something good in this world! Instead of going to jail!
    Now those rich need their “retail therapy”, bet they feel sad about the situation they have found themselves in they spend even money on themselves selfishly and hope it may help them feel better.


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