by Mark Travers Ph.D.

Sometimes, we need to unlearn basic conditioning by splurging the right way.

Many of us are taught to avoid conversations around the topic of money. As such, we struggle to understand the relationship we have with it. We may ruminate on questions such as:

  • “If money can’t buy happiness, why do I only see myself being happier if I were richer?”
  • “My parents never let me spend money on them. How do I tell them that having certain amenities is not the same as being addicted to luxury?”
  • “Are materialism and happiness mutually exclusive?”
  • “Does splurging make me greedy and selfish?”

It’s good to reflect on these questions, as they tell a deeper story about how you view money and its role in your life. Below I will discuss three ways money can actually buy happiness, according to new research.

1. Spending money on your partner pays happiness dividends.

We often feel nudged to think of creative ways to show our commitment to our partner. This might mean making an unexpected thoughtful gesture, crafting a handmade gift, or thinking of new ways to spend quality time together.

While all of these methods are great, there’s nothing wrong with buying your partner something they want or could use. Or, even better, something they want but would never buy for themselves.

One recent study shows that partners who regularly spend money on each other are more satisfied in their relationships. Spending on your partner increases partner responsiveness, which contributes to the health of the relationship and to both members’ individual psychological health.

Moreover, buying something for your partner does not mean you didn’t devote time or effort into the gesture. Purchasing something nice takes effort, too — you might have had to save up money, plan around a sale, or make a reservation.

When it comes to investing in your relationship, both time and money make a difference.

2. Spending money on a furry friend can be delightful.

Yes, pets are huge responsibilities. Yes, they can make a mess. And yes, they sometimes leave bite marks on brand-new furniture. Yes, veterinary visits can be expensive. But pets are not (only) money pits. On the contrary, research shows that spending money on your pets — be it for training, toys, or accessories — can significantly increase your level of happiness.

There are other positives as well. Petting a dog can have stress-busting effects on your mind and body. Keeping your pet active forces you to stay active. Perhaps most importantly, pets also play an emotionally supportive role for you and your family.

People who own pets are known to be more sociable and tend to create vibrant communities with other pet owners, which can be a powerful antidote to loneliness and isolation. It was no surprise that when the pandemic hit and the world went into hibernation, pet adoption and sales reached record highs.

3. Spend your money on experiences, not things.

While spending on others is a great way to increase your happiness, spending on yourself is not a crime. In fact, buying new and interesting experiences for yourself is a great way to achieve long-lasting happiness that is not rooted in materialism.

Investing in experiences like a solo trip, a concert, or even a music lesson can add meaningful milestones to your life’s narrative. The value of experiences increases as the years go by and continue to enrich you in different ways — something new clothes or jewelry rarely achieve.

Not convinced? Think about your honeymoon, the time you took your child or younger sibling to an amusement park, or the time you went to a book reading by your favorite author. Would you trade those experiences for anything else in the world?


Money is no more than a token of value. You are allowed to use it when you want to tell someone that you value their love, their labor, and their presence — even if that person is you.

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