We all need a certain amount of money to meet our basic needs, but the truth is that money above and beyond this amount doesn’t necessarily make us happier. Often, it is the sad fact that we compare ourselves to other people and their standards of living that makes us dissatisfied with what we have. This is not helpful, as we all have different levels of aspiration, ability and outgoings.
If we're working in a low-paid job or surviving on benefits, the challenge of paying bills and putting food on the table is enough to cause significant stress. In this case, an increase in income would reduce the stress, which would leave you feeling happier. Getting a better paid job could mean you were able to afford to buy nicer things, but that in itself wouldn’t necessarily make you any happier. Plus, we’ve got to remember that as income increases, so too do our outgoings which might only serve to add to the stress of maintaining your lifestyle. It’s a double-edged sword.
When we talk about happiness, often we're really talking about pleasure. We can ‘buy’ lots of activities that cause us momentary pleasure – but what impact do they really have on our underlying happiness and sense of wellbeing? True happiness comes from those things we cannot buy: helping others, the relationships we build with family and friends, having a job that gives us a sense of achievement and purpose.
We’ve developed some ideas to help you live within your means and manage your money without feeling as though you're missing out on the small pleasures in life that will contribute towards your happiness.
Rethink your personal reward systemsOften we incentivise our performance or progress with treats, e.g. a shopping spree when we’ve completed a difficult task at work; a meal out for good behaviour at school; a trip to the hairdresser after a tough week. Often, these treats become more frequent than we realise and this can have an impact on our finances. There are two ways of addressing this: reduce the frequency of these rewards, or swap out the rewards that cost money for those experiences which are free – like a long bath or some family time together.
Change your finance focusOften when faced with financial stresses, we talk about the need to ‘cut back’ or ‘trim the budget’. This automatically puts us in the mindset that we are losing something or missing out on things that we had before. We’re challenging you to change your focus and look at your finances from the bottom up. Take some time to work out a budget, starting from a zero base. Think about what you really need – like a place to live, food to eat, heating - and those items that are non-essential, like mobile phones and TV subscriptions. By looking at things differently, we can start to appreciate the real difference between want and need.
Be thankfulWhatever our income, there are often things we can be thankful for, even though they can sometimes be forgotten in our aspirations for ‘more’. Recognising and giving thanks for every expense you can already afford is a habit that should extend far beyond your monthly budgeting. And recognising the enormous value of everything you already enjoy – experiences, relationships, opportunities – can go a long way in combating feelings of limitation, even when your means are limited.
If you’re interested in finding out more about happiness and what we can do to be happier, why not read our previous blog posts: http://firstpsychology.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=happiness