Yale’s “Most Popular Class” Could Completely Change How You Spend Your Money

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Money might not make you happy, but it does give you control over your life in different ways. It can allow you to travel more, to have financial security, to retire at an age when you can still enjoy the finer things, say ‘yes’ to dinner invitations, and so on and so forth.

Yale University’s 10-week “happiness class” (actually called The Science of Well-Being), is changing the way people see money and its connection to happiness, though. How?

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Professor Laurie Santos begins the class by attempting to dispel the notion that the “things” we want in life don’t actually make us happy. There are, she acknowledges, features of the human brain that drive us to chase materialistic things that don’t have any lasting impact on our satisfaction with life – one of the big ones being money.

She points to a 2010 Princeton study in which researchers analyzed the responses of 450,000 Americans who had been asked about their income and whether they were living the best possible life they could imagine. The results showed that while happiness does increase with income levels, the correlation topped out at around $75k/year.

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Another study, however, showed the number much higher – around $160k – and several other studies have found that there is some correlation between income and happiness.

Santos agrees that the studies are interesting, but believes that we overestimate how much of an impact money has on happiness – and thinks other practices like meditation, gratitude, and making time for interpersonal connections could have just as big (or bigger) an impact.

They are also notably easier to attain than millions of dollars.

(Though, again, it is easier to make time for yoga if you have disposable income and vacation days and the like).

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Santos says that one of the ways we can mitigate the money factor is to be more mindful of how we spend our cash – to give it up for experiences that make us happy, rather than things. She has some thoughts, too, on the idea that you need money to buy things to give you experiences.

“It depends. If you can be mindful of how the new car feels when you drive it – by taking into account the music, how well it drives, and so on – a new car can feel like an experience.”

Basically, a thing can be an experience, and money can sort of make you happy if you buy things that give you a positive experience on more than one occasion. Things that keep happiness from fading (so not a new article of clothing or that expensive pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing, probably).

She ends the class like this:

“So does money really make us happier? Maybe a little bit. Maybe if you’re in the U.S. and you only earn $10,000 a year, then yes, more money would make you happier. For the rest of us, however, more money won’t make much of a difference.”

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Writer Dave Schools took the class and then attempted to implement some of the ideas he took away, and found some things that, surprisingly, did improve his happiness more than more money would have.

He recommends learning new skills outside of work, spending money on others as opposed to yourself, making more time for friends and family instead of working, spending less money on products that don’t last, and doing healthy things like exercising, journaling, and meditating on a daily basis.

If you want to give it a try you can – online and for free. But who knows for how long it’ll be up, so jump on it!